Does Google REALLY Want To Go Down This FTC Route

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Every time paid links is brought up Matt Cutts brings up the FTC’s “suggestions” on bloggers disclosing things they have been compensated for. In no where in these “suggestions” does it talk about paid links. But even if it did they are just suggestions.

They are not law and if Google was following the FTC’s suggestions I doubt Google Adsense/adlinks would be engaging in some of the most deceptive advertising methods I have ever seen on the internet.

Also I am curious then why Google is not requiring Firefox to display that they are paying Firefox billions of dollars to be the default search engine each time you search. The funny thing is not even firefox developers know they are getting paid so much by Google as you can see in my posts about it before. Talk about a lack of disclosure.

And what about all the other properties Google has bought their way into? How many times have you seen Adsense ads not labeled as ads?

What about the spyware/virus bearshare I have BEEN SHOWING IN SLIDES FOR PRESENTATIONS FOR 3+ YEARS that is still ruining Google Adsense. Google CLEARLY has knowledge of these things and they choose to participate in deceptive advertising.

Now in regards to Matt you know why he must do this right? He is a smart guy. And I would guess he HATES ADSENSE with a passion. But as we saw before text links are Google’s achilles heel and remain to be.

Now honestly there is absolutely zero way for them to detect inlink ads if it is done properly and Matt (and maybe former Googler Vanessa Fox who chimed in also) knows that.

If its easy to detect why did they have all the calls for help using the paid links form to rat on people who pay for links and employ the hundreds of people to review all those submissions?

Surely if you can “detect” it so easily that would save a few bucks.

Anyway I personally don’t think Google wants to go down this path with the FTC.

If they want to come out and say they will take you out of their search engine index if you don’t follow their rules then fine. But don’t act like its some Government mandate and everyone is going to go to jail who is selling/buying paid links.

163 thoughts on “Does Google REALLY Want To Go Down This FTC Route

      1. blackysky

        I am so agree…. anyway google does not create content so without webmasters their whole bussiness model worth nothing…. anyway they cannot kick out everybody … they have to watch out… webmasters push google to the top… so webmasters can push google to hell..

        google starts to be too greedy..
        i know they try to protect their business but they need to calm down

        1. BusinessX

          Agree with you there blackysky. Whatever happened to Google’s “Don’t be evil” credo? Why should we work for Google with nofollow links. Do any other search engines use them?

          Maybe Google employees are getting lazy with their naps and free buffet. They want us to do the work for them.

        2. rasim

          “Don’t do evil” is long gone… Shareholders are evil when it comes to their money. Google’s shares are 60% down from a few months ago from over $700 to below $300. The economy is not doing good, hard to shine for them right now, and paid links can take another share of the profits. Google is pretty much done, the growth is not on the horizon, they did everything they could, can’t come out with nothing new and need to sustain their profits, which is hard even without paid links in this market. I think it’s time for google to start laying people off to and start controlling costs. :)

        1. Dwight Zahringer

          It’s not a paper chase- the paid links debate has been going on for a long time (like Jermery said) In fact- last week at PubCon, at the Paid Links or Link Building session it was only my partner John Lessnau of LinkXL.com who really talked about buying links- Aaron and Rand were too scared and didn’t want to stirr the pot with a full session and Matt in the room.

      2. ATLANTA WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER

        YUp….do no evil…i got busted (i was a nubie…what do i know) when I spammed my title all 500 lines of it. I respected google for that philosophy. I don’t know enough about the internal things on google (who really does?) but I wlll say that google is a power house and it is okay that they don’t what to loose money and make more and more and more. This is what we do isn’t. However, making money..even millions or billions isn’t a bad thing…..being evil to get it….now that is …well….just plain evil.

    1. blackysky

      i agree too but will shomoney use the system or simply talk about it….. he can walk the walk .. and test the game .. and show the world he don’t need google … will he use it on all his websites???

    1. Dick

      In Russia there is a competitor of Google. This is a search engine Yandex. Yandex immediately puts a filter for buying and selling links.

  1. Home Biss

    Whoa… You really hit Google pretty hard there but hey… They deserved it! :)

    Just take a look at their AdSense these days. Google said that they are against link-sellers and link-buyers but hey… I saw a lot of AdSense ads asking people either to buy or sell links! What’s up with the double standard?

  2. Four20

    Google doesn’t pay to be the default search engine do they? I mean they do pay Mozilla(because some traffic clicks on sponsors), but I wasn’t aware that it was like that. I would imagine Yahoo pays them for traffic that clicks sponsor links as well.

    It’s as much of a revenue stream to Mozilla as Google Adsense is to the majority of bloggers.

  3. DollarDevil

    It all comes down to power, and who has the most leverage. Google dominates text advertising. What’s their next move? Expand an already huge empire. I guess at the sacrifice of valued customers.

    Great post shoe.

  4. Alain Saffel

    I’ve written about this topic a few times as well. I’m waiting for Google to suffer the same problems that Microsoft has in terms of its monopolistic behaviour.

    Why is it OK for Google to effectively sell links but nobody else can? Maybe Google will be broken up into baby Googles? hehe

    This is just another reason why there needs to be strong competition in the search engine market. Maybe the Yahoo/MSN deal should have gone ahead. With Jerry Yang on the way out, it should be interesting to see what happens.

  5. Dan_N

    The reason they are able to get away with it is because they can, until someone is able to compete at google levels than they call the shots, do you want to be on googles bad side if you are trying to rank organically, no you are going to follow the rules they apply no matter how hypocritical they can be.

      1. MikeTek

        I can imagine the internet without Google, but not without search. I don’t consider the two inextricably linked.

    1. teraom

      In a sense google does rule the internet. 80% of search engine traffic and 80% of online advertising from google. I hate it too, but its true..

    2. blackysky

      google control internet no 1 search engine 1 search engine power with youtube

      taking over mobile phone… they got a huge database about everything you do… they show their power in telling you where the flu happens ..faster then the expert !!!!!!!

  6. Google Conquest

    The funny thing is, I did not know that they were paying FF billions for it either!

    I feel the same and agree with you totally. But, after all, they are the big G.

    Without them, a lot of people would not make their money…?

    But, in my opinion, G is too greedy!

    Anyways: Great post.

  7. X-Factor Blog

    Shoe, Matt or Vanessa don’t mention the FTC in their comments on your previous post, fair enough Matt does on the link he posted but it is fairly relevant to the discussion you started with the blog post, so I don’t see the problem there.
    Both of their comments make perfect sense to me & I don’t see what your problem is. What’s wrong with using nofollow links? Is it that you will make less money from nofollow as your link wont be indexed?
    Surely, if you want to recommend a service to your your users that you believe in, you will get enough interested people even by using nofollow links.
    What’s wrong with labeling ads as ads?
    My kids watch ads on TV, see them in their comics, read them in their books as well as landing on many spam type internet pages daily. It can be pretty hard convincing them that all they view is not gold & someone somewhere is paying those advertisers for them to see that ad & hoping they will buy into that product giving them a % of the sale/clck or as in nofollow links go, pushing them up further in the search results they are likely to see, so why not label them as such?

    In my own expierence, Google make it pretty obvious that some links they display are ‘Sponsered Links’ & in the majority of sites they display their content related ads on are also labled as such.

    I think if we all used nofollow the Internet would be a better place, now if that was only possible to enforce on TV & print media…wishful thinking…

    But, while saying all that, I can see how this pisses off some people like yourself as you might loose money promoting products as your link would be worth less to search engines.

    1. CS

      “What’s wrong with using nofollow links?”

      because google instructs webmasters to design websites for users not search engines, then asks you to use nofollow to help them be a more successful/profitable company.

      “In my own expierence, Google make it pretty obvious that some links they display are ‘Sponsered Links’ & in the majority of sites they display their content related ads on are also labled as such.”

      do you remember when sponsored results on search engine result pages had a blue background? do you wonder why they are now light yellow? does that change support “clear disclosure” ?

      the instances i’ve described amount to “do as i say, not as i do”

      1. X-Factor Blog

        Sorry, but I don’t see what your point is?
        Yes, I do remember the blue background & I do see the yellow background that they use now.
        The yellow does still stand out but is more visually apleasing & does still contain ‘Sponsored Link’ text to the right hand side, what’s the problem with this?

        1. wtmo

          There will ALWAYS be loopholes in any system…people can complain and argue about it but what is it going to do for you?

          If google told you to get down on your knees and…well we won’t go there…but half you guys would…

          People will always manipulate the system whether it be for the good or the bad.

        2. CS

          well, you said in your experience google makes it obvious which links are sponsored and which aren’t. i feel that the change to yellow made it less obvious. that’s all.

        3. CS

          to clarify–if google is asking you to do more to disclose links that were created because money was paid, shouldn’t you ask why they have recently started doing less to disclose links that have been created because money was paid on their own website?

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  9. Ashley

    I don’t think Google has really thought through this whole nofollow thing. They’re pushing people to use it and what’s going to happen in the very near future is that everyone is going to use it on every single link on their site. I know that’s what I’m starting to do. Eventually the only non-nofollow links will be paid links, newbie webmasters who don’t know better, and a very very few real links.

    I read an article over at SEOBlack hat about the Google blackhole and I think that’s where everyone is heading, like Wikipeida, just stop linking out to other people. I mean why give away for free Google PR? In his article he mentioned that NY Times site was going to do this, too.

    It won’t be long before a WordPress plugin comes out that “nofollow” every single outbound link (if one doesn’t already exist).

    What’s Google going to do then when everyone starts nofollowing every link on their site?

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  11. Sandra G

    The only thing is that Google doesn’t pay Firefox billions, they paid them $66 million this year.

    I can see Google’s point of view in that they don’t want spam to game the system. I am sure Jeremy doesn’t want to see a site low on content or to be much less quality buy links to outrank him in Google for fighters.com. No one would want that to happen to them. However, it’s not like link buying is open to a select few people, anyone can do it. I think Google needs to look at their rankings. If a new site comes out, has lots of quality content, starts buying links to rank well for their search terms, how is that so bad? If it isn’t relevant then kick them out.

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  13. michael webster

    As an attorney, albeit from Ontario, I believe the Matt Cutts is wrong about his interpretation of the FTC’s jurisdiction under Section 5, Deceptive Advertising, and paid links.

    First, Shoemoney you are wrong about the FTC having “suggestions”. The FTC has some guidelines on how to avoid a Section 5 action, but there is a real statute involved here.

    Second, Cutts has never done more than make unpersuasive analogies between paid links and the FTC guidelines.

    Third, the basic understanding should be this. Linking, paid or not, is not providing a recommendation and as such does not trigger the FTC guidelines. Recommendations or reviews, on the other hand, have a two step analysis. One if a reasonable audience would expect the reviewer to be paid, then no disclosure is needed. But, if a reasonable audience would not make this inference, then “paid advertisement” needs to be appended to the review.

    1. MikeTek

      Interesting – great to have an attorney’s take on it.

      What about those reviews that include an affiliate link? In that case, the link becomes the basis for payment – the affiliate isn’t paid until the link is clicked. Does the publisher need to append “paid advertisement” to the review?

  14. Matt Cutts

    “But even if it did they are just suggestions.” Okay, I’ll bite. Jeremy, you know the FTC has more than the power of suggestion, because you’ve written about multi-million dollar FTC lawsuits regarding deceptive behavior before: http://www.shoemoney.com/2008/02/13/valueclick-vclk-settles-ftc-investigation-for-29-million/

    “Now honestly there is absolutely zero way for them to detect inlink ads…” You’ve answered that one before too: http://www.shoemoney.com/2007/10/29/fun-numbers/ where you said “(its so funny people running around wondering what magic algorithm Google is using to figure out who is selling paid links…..)”. That’s just one of many possible ways to get started, of course.

    This is not the first company that sells/brokers links in editorial content without disclosing it, so there’s not much new in that sense.

      1. Anthony Shapley

        Matt, If Google is so good at detecting these types of links why you asking people not to do it? Seems a bit backwards to me.

    1. domainpubber

      Glad to see Matt (if its really you) respond to this thread. When Google finally comes up with a better way to rank sites then the whole “nofollow” debate will go away. Clearly, the issue is not that text links compete for advertising dollars but manipulating Google search results. It is perfectly understandable that Google must do what is needed to provide users with the best possible search results.

      But there does seem to be a key flaw in the WAY Google has tried to address the problem by scaremongering the Webmaster community.

      If you would be so kind as to respond here or on your Blog Matt, don’t you think that everybody using “nofollow” links will have the exact opposite effect that Google desires? In other words you won’t be able to tell which sites/pages are actually “popular” since nobody is any longer willing to chance giving out “dofollow” links for fear of being slapped? If I live in fear that linking to other sites could harm my own business why will I bother linking to any other site without using “nofollow”?

      There must be a better way for the best minds in the world to solve this problem than scaring and maddening the very people who create all that content Google indexes and organizes for the masses to find!

    2. Ravish

      Matt, Google can easily detect it.

      You can just go on as an Advertiser and buy links on all the publisher blogs on Inlinks. You will get URLs of all the blogs who just sold you a link.

      Buy links worth a few thousand dollars and you can have URLs of all the Inlinks publishers.

    3. Yooba

      Matt, I seem to recall that Yahoo has said they don’t care if links are paid for. They said they judge links based on whether or not they provide value to the end user, not whether money was behind the placement of the link. So Yahoo’s got a shitload of money and have some pretty smart people working for them, yet I don’t see them running around saying the FTC is gonna get you! In fact, they said they have nothing wrong with paid links that pass juice. Do you think Yahoo’s lawyers are all idiots and people who have dropped the ball? Or do you (as someone who isn’t a lawyer) think you understand the FTC better than Yahoo does?

  15. MikeTek

    I couldn’t agree more with this post, Jeremy.

    Matt’s comment over at TechCrunch seemed uncharacteristically, perhaps even desperately, threatening. The problem is, there are plenty of legal questions and flat-out holes in his(Google’s) position.

    I know Matt is doing his job to the best of his abilities, but in all honesty I think they’d better rethink their strategy on this one. I’m sure that decision will come from above Matt’s head.

  16. seogis

    Clearly Google is getting a huge free ride on perceived good will – the ‘good guys’, but at the end of the day, they are a large corporation just like AOL and Yahoo – with double standards and wishy washy PR talk to get the good end of the deal.

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  18. BusinessX

    Why should Google have a report paid link section? Seems very Hitler Youth to me.

    I just can’t imagine that Google thinks that they are losing that much revenue to Text Link Ads, LinkXL, TNX, etc. Google has Fortune 500 spending millions a month on Adwords and they are worried that my $10 paid link buy is going to bring them down? Sounds to me like overly comfortable Google employees justifying their jobs.

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  20. Andrew

    So I sign up to inlinks.com for $10 and place some links to my competitors sites. Then I tell Google. Cheap way to frame my competitors. My point being it’s not enough to know they are paid links, you need to know WHO paid them. Otherwise I can just sink my competitors. Google knows that. That’s why the risk for paid ads is 100% with the publisher, not the advertiser.

    1. Will

      “So I sign up to inlinks.com for $10 and place some links to my competitors sites. Then I tell Google. Cheap way to frame my competitors. My point being it’s not enough to know they are paid links, you need to know WHO paid them. ”

      If you want to frame your competitors you would spend $800 on links and buy them all within 5 minutes. That might trip a filter and hurt your competitors. In fact it very likely would depending on who your competitor is and how many links you buy plus the velocity with which the links appear.

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  26. SarahG

    I think it is just a matter of time (soon) that blogs like yours will tank due to the increasing decline in every investment class, more jobs are lost, etc. My guess is that 80% of your fans are dreamers who still live at home with their parents. As more of these cyber wanna be Johnny come lately parents go into financial trouble they will not stand for their Johnny to sit online all day on sites like this.

    You do have one good thing going for you, a wife who is in the medical profession and your good sense to save your money by avoiding the stock market.

    It is really hard anymore to read blogs like this without laughing.

    Side Note: Watch King Google’s stock price over the next 6 months, the short sellers will bitch slap them next into single digits when they get finished with the banks and auto makers.

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  30. therealdeal

    The problem is it’s not done right! Do you know how easy it is to detect a link in a blog post. The blog post sits around for 1-12 months with no link then one day…. by magic a link appears in a post that’s old. Too easy for Google to find out. IMO

    1. Will

      If people do stupid things like buy 300 links in 1 minute on blogs, then yes, that might trip a filter. I also would tend to agree that links appearing on old posts (even links created with proper velocity) probably don’t look very natural. A post that’s a year old suddenly has links with targeted anchor text….yea that doesn’t look too natural.

  31. Kenney @ Work From Home Blog

    Oh snaps Shoe blast Google. but some extremely valid points. I understand that they don’t want people “unnaturally” messing up their search results by buying links and I understand that they may want a larger piece of the advertising pie…but they are going a little to far. I think that’s it’s a bunch of crap anyway. They are too controlling. For everyone it’s not just about buying links for SEO purposes, but because of the advertising benefits. It’s a way to advertise you’re site (product) and a way to profit from allowing advertising. You shouldn’t be penalized.

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  34. Carla Alvarez

    I understand where they are coming from, but the thing is EVERY other type media has undisclosed ads. Well maybe they do disclose it, but it is on some obscure page in the magazine or at the end of a show or movie.

    All those “cool product” picks in magazines . . . those are PAID ADS. Product placements? . . . Paid for. No other medium has a blinking “sponsored by” an insertion on these alternate types of ads.

    I’m not an attorney, but based on how other publications do it, I would think a page somewhere with a list of “sponsored by” or “contributions by” should cover you with the FTC.

    That is a completely separate issue from Google though.

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  38. Popular Wealth

    While I don’t share your passion for “anti Google” I do feel the ego over in the G camp is a little much. It takes a big pair to over charge and under deliver openly and then tell people they deserve it.

    I’m the webmaster, Google works for me – not the other way around!

    Google gave one of my sites “sitelink” status while at the same time voiding it’s ability to rank on it’s main keyword. The sitelink has the main keyword removed and it looks really funny! I didn’t sell links or do anything on the Google list of things not to do but there it is, a sitelink with a single keyword ban at the same time. Figure that one out, i’ve been patient on it for 10 months now too. I don’t want “MORE GOOGLE” on the net, I want whats already there to work better and leave my privacy intact – fast.

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  40. paul

    I think Google stopping bloggers from accepting text links is really too much of a penalty.

    For a lot of bloggers, their internal pages do not contain page rank at all but if advertisers still want to purchase links on it, there should be little conflict with Google’s stance.

  41. hiding from matt

    I think Google uses unfair business practices. They say they want to stop link buying because it ruins the results but then they sell the top spots anyways. Therefore they are trying to put the competition out of business so they can maintain a monopoly. I hope the government gets them good for anti-trust.

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  43. Local Price

    If Google wants to ban inlinks they’ll have to ban all links and there goes their algo. You can bet they are working and brainstorming 24/7 for a better way to rank pages, but right now the best way is still with links and if they can’t detect the links the links are good.

  44. LatestRant.com

    Doesnt it seem much simplier if Google just removes links in general from it’s PR calculations? If Google’s PR rank was based soley on whole content and hits to that interesting “whole content” then that would be a great way to determine if a sight is a good one.

    That would also force sites to come up with really good content and not just landing pages and “buy this” links. The algor could scan the pages of the sites and determine how good the content is and thus make it a content rich site.

    Seems simple enough. Elimate the issue altogether from the algo so it doesnt give PR rank based on links. Completely remove the PR rank based on links. Simply, links dont matter, content does, period.

  45. property in spain

    Google is a business just like all others (except huge). Advertising is essential to them.
    they need to realise that other businesses want to follow the same advertising routes without being penalised by Google.
    asking bloggers to blow the whistle is a bit ridiculous, what have they got to gain? They will only prove that they were knowingly involved.

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  48. Hekim

    It’s the monopoly rules! Everybody is buying and selling links and Google knows that but they can’t penalize all webmasters!

  49. Steven-Sanders

    I really like your “stop bitching and moaning” ideas about Google and what people think they will or won’t do.

    It’s refreshing to hear when I hear so many others not thinking about it this way.

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  52. Donnie

    Too funny, three months ago I was approached by somebody asking if I would be interested in text link answering. I was hesitant, but for 70 bucks I figured what the hell and did it. Never heard a word from Google about it, not that it mattered because my blogs page 1 ranking was earning diddly, and that page 1 ranking was earned months before I was approached. Since then my adsense dollars have increased considerably thanks to 500,000 hits (40 thousand of which were unique) during a 24 hr. period, but the earnings have peaked. Having said that I am now part of inLinks and I am intrigued by all the hullaballoo surrounding their launch and how upset Google is.

    As far as I’m concerned, I am the webmaster of my site and I decide what kind of advertising revenue I am going to accept and Google can do nothing about it really. My website is established enough that I don’t think I need to worry about Google and my page ranking anymore. Plenty of external links to my site, not to mention many search engines crawling my site. Why should I care?

    What people fail to miss in what I think is a whole lot of paranoia is that creativity goes a long way, so does being devious. Google can hem, haw and issue veiled threats all they want. They can exclude my site from their search engine too because there are plenty of other search engines out there. Google’s problem is they are scared, and they are using intimidation to sort of alleviate that fear.

    I’ll be blunt, I don’t know much about this issue, but it will be a cold day in hell when I buckle to Google. They haven’t really done much for me, and as far as my page 1 ranking goes, the title of my blog is unique enough that it will always have a page one ranking. I have over 4 thousand incoming and outgoing links on my page, including affiliates and to this date Google has said nothing to me about it. I even invite advertisers to advertise on my site, who by the way use anchor text links and banners.

    Bottomline, and like I said, I don’t much about the issue, but I do know enough to dare say that they are blowing smoke out of their behinds and really don’t have a legal leg to stand on, especially since they are in violation of their own terms and agreements themselves if I have been intepreting what others saying about Googles actions when it comes to paid links.

    By the way person who approached me with an offer to pay me for that text link gave me a heads up saying that SEO people would be seeking bloggers like myself out, and willing to pay good bucks for advertising on my site. It looks like he wasn’t far off the mark.

    As for Google, like I said they are blowing smoke out of their buts. My advice to everybody is to just jump on the inLinks train and let the chips fall where they may, besides the revenue, from what I have been reading anyway is worth risking the wrath of Google, who at the moment are running around like chickens with their heads cut off because they are going to lose a lot of that “advertising revenue.” They’re the makers of their own fate.

    Sorry for being so long winded, but I figured I was going to add my two-cents worth, I figured I should get my two-cents worth.

    Cheers, and ha,ha,ha Google. Your chickens are coming back to roost, but this time I don’t think the legal community is going to back you on this one.

    Did I make any sense, or do people think I was just rambling?

    1. Donnie

      I should clarify one thing, a PR1 means nothing, and I owe it all to Google. I still make money with adsense, not a lot but it pays some of the bills and to top it off, I make a little bit of advertising revenue without adsense with affiliates and from direct advertising on my site on the side.

      I fully intend to take advantage of inLinks, and I will ensure that I’m smart about it so as not to attract much attention from Google, not that I think they would be concerned with somebody with a PR1. They have too much time on their hands if they are going to worry about small fish like me.

      As for disclosure and transparency how’s this sound “This blogger sometimes accepts money from Google for inlinks, accepts money from affiliate marketers, and even from direct advertisers. I do not blog about their products, nor do I encourage people to clink on the links. Is that okay Mr. Cutts, it’s that measure up to Google’s high standards?”

      The above disclosure would look good on any blogger’s website don’t you think?

      This is really a lame debate, one I don’t think Google can with this time.

      But like I said, I don’t know much about it, nor am I worried about Google cutting me out of the adsense program. My gut is telling me inLinks is worth the risk, though I advise caution to those who afraid of losing their page ranking. Google doesn’t own me or my blog by the way and I am the maker of my own success. I owe nothing to Google, nor am I loyal to them. They can go and get stuffed.

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  54. Frostfire Gifts

    I am not sure it is worth risking your PR with inlinks, Google acts like it is the law and may wipe your PR at any point for doing things it sees as breaching tis terms.

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    google is afraid that they are going to lose advertisers to inlinks?? how pathetic.. don’t they have bigger fish to fry? (like competing with other search engines)

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