Google has been accused of widespread fraud in a class-action lawsuit that alleges the tech giant abruptly canceled thousands of advertising accounts before they were due to be paid.
Filed in a California district court, the lawsuit comes from consumer rights law firm Hagens Berman. According to the complaint, Google had an internal system to cancel accounts that placed ads on their websites with AdSense right before Google was scheduled to make payments, CNET reported.
"This wrongful practice has sparked numerous bitter complaints from website owners across the Web, with some reporting losses reaching thousands of dollars a pop," Steve Berman, attorney representing consumers and founding partner of Hagens Berman, said in a statement.
"What we believe to be true from our research is that Google's practice is likely hurting thousands of website owners and operators who feel they have no way to fight a giant company like Google."
The civil action relies partly on an anonymous accusation that Google cooked up the fraudulent scheme in 2009 to cut publishers out of their rightful profits.
"We were told to begin banning accounts that were close to their payout period (which is why account bans never occur immediately after a payout)," read the accusation, which was posted on PasteBin and then on Reddit. "The purpose was to get that money owed to publishers back to Google AdSense, while having already served up the ads to the public."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Free Range Content, which owns Repost.us, an AdSense customer. The company alleges that it first observed an unusual jump of $40,000 in its AdSense earnings this past February, CNET reported.
Google has called the original anonymous accusation a work of fiction, giving a statement to TechCrunch and other outlets in April.
"This description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction. The color-coding and 'extreme quality control' programs the author describes don't exist," Google said at the time. "Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop bad actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users.
"All publishers that sign up for AdSense agree to the Terms and Conditions of the service and a set of policies designed to ensure the quality of the network for users, advertisers and other publishers. When we discover violations of these policies, we take quick action, which in some cases includes disabling the publisher's account and refunding affected advertisers."