“Scammed” book trailer gets banned by Google

Can a book trailer be too controversial for Google?

That’s the question I was left asking after a trailer for my new book, Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals posted to YouTube last week.

Within a few minutes, it was deleted without explanation. Then my entire life on Google — including my Gmail account — was suspended.

Was it something I said?

I’ll admit, there are companies out there that will stop at nothing to prevent Scammed from being read. That’s probably because they want to keep bilking their customers, offering substandard products and overcharging for the privilege. They have every reason to censor this book trailer.

But do-no-evil Google?

I created the clip in Final Cut Pro X and composed a soundtrack in Garage Band on a recent Sunday afternoon. I wanted to highlight some of the accolades I’d gotten from fellow authors. Calling it the “publishing event of 2011” might have been a little bit of hyperbole, but for me and thousands of other scammed customers, that is true.

Angry scam artists aren’t the only ones with a motive for stopping the trailer from being seen. Google’s own fraud-detection algorithm could have played a part, with the title of the book — “Scammed” — raising a few red flags. It could have also been the link to the Amazon page where you can pre-order the book, another hallmark of a spammy video.

I posted these questions on a YouTube help forum. Here’s the entire exchange.

I can certainly understand why Google would be cautious, when it comes to the videos it hosts on YouTube. As the father of three young children, I would prefer it to be more conservative in its approach to deleting iffy content. But removing my entire digital life seemed a little excessive.

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But it can. Just have a look at Gmail’s terms.

13.3 Google may at any time, terminate its legal agreement with you if:

(A) you have breached any provision of the Terms (or have acted in manner which clearly shows that you do not intend to, or are unable to comply with the provisions of the Terms); or

(B) Google is required to do so by law (for example, where the provision of the Services to you is, or becomes, unlawful); or

(C) the partner with whom Google offered the Services to you has terminated its relationship with Google or ceased to offer the Services to you; or

(D) Google is transitioning to no longer providing the Services to users in the country in which you are resident or from which you use the service; or

(E) the provision of the Services to you by Google is, in Google’s opinion, no longer commercially viable.

I won’t bury the lede, as they say in journalism: I managed to log back into Gmail within a few minutes, and my YouTube account was restored three days later.

Since I cover Google as a journalist, I was also able to get a more detailed explanation for why my book trailer was too hot for Google. A representative admitted that the takedown was a mistake. I’ll have a full report soon.

Google’s actions may seem like a fluke, but they aren’t. The search engine has blacklisted this site several times (the technical term is “sandboxing”) without so much as an explanation, making it impossible to find the names and email addresses of corporate executives that could help readers get better customer service.

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Again, I’m not sure if Google is responsible for my reduced search engine visibility, or if certain corporate interests have dispatched their SEO operatives to sabotage this site.

Either way, repeated requests of Google to review the site, and assurances by me that On Your Side contains no questionable content, have been ignored.

One thing is certain: If Scammed and On Your Side fulfill their mission of helping consumers, it will probably be despite Google — and not because of it.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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