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Google May Finally Disclose AdSense Split … If You’re An Italian Newspaper, That Is

How much money does Google keep for itself from AdSense ads that publishers carry? Unless you’re a big publisher, Google — which preaches “data liberation” — doesn’t say. But thanks to an anti-trust investigation in Italy, Google may share how much it keeps. At least, that is, to Italian newspaper publishers.

It’s a simple enough thing to provide. Google brokers ads for web sites, keeping some of what an advertiser will spend for itself. Imagine that an advertiser agrees to pay $1 per click for an ad distributed through Google’s AdSense network. Google might pay publishers carrying that ad 90% of the amount — or 75% — or 50% — or whatever it decides. Publishers themselves aren’t told how much is kept.

Potentially, this makes it possible for Google to keep back more money for itself in rough times, as an easy way to boost its bottom line.

Google’s incredibly hypocritical in its failure to disclose its AdShare split. For years, the company has run a campaign that the web should be more open with data, though it’s most vocal about being “open” in areas where it is behind competitively (see Google: As Open As It Wants To Be). Google’s the leader in contextual ads that AdSense provides. Apparently, it sees no need to be open there.

Google also has tried to fend off claims that it has a monopoly or should be subject to anti-trust action countering that people can take their data with them and leave Google. There’s even the Google Data Liberation Front team designed to encourage this within Google. But how exactly how much Google’s has kept back for itself from AdSense should also be “your” data — and liberating that is impossible if it’s not provided at all.

To me, Google’s lack of disclosure when it comes to AdSense payments has long seemed the chief area it might be vulnerable on anti-competition grounds. See my past articles for more:

As it turns out, it was an anti-trust action that sparked the latest news on revealing an AdSense split.  Last August, the Italian Federation Of Newspaper and Periodical Publishers (FIEG) asked Italy’s AGCM — similar to the US Federal Trade Commission — to examine if Google’s acting in an anti-competitive manner.

Now news has come out that Google has proposed to the AGCM that it will provide more information about AdSense commissions that it takes (Google’s statement is here, in Italian). Whether that’s a full disclosure or not is unclear. Also unclear is whether this will be shared with any Italian publishers or rather just Italian newspapers publishers that carry AdSense, which I suspect is the case.

Not an Italian newspaper publisher? Last year, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told me that he guessed that Google would eventually disclose to anyone in AdSense how much cut it takes (see Schmidt: Someday, AdSense Publishers May Know Google’s Cut Of Ad Revenues). Here’s hoping Google gets moving on that without doing so only in response to anti-trust investigations.

Google’s also pledging that newspapers can opt-out of Google News without having to opt-out of all of Google, which was a major issue the Italian group raised.

Actually, they always could opt-out of Google News and yet still stay in Google. They just couldn’t do this automatically, something Google’s since fixed. The articles below provide more background on this:

Postscript: Got a comment on Google about whether this applies to any publisher in Italy, not just news publishers (it does) and if it might come to any publisher worldwide (maybe):

The transparency proposal applies to all AdSense online publishers, in Italy.  As you’ve noted though, we previously foreshadowed that we’re exploring ways to help our AdSense partners worldwide.

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