I missed when exactly they posted these, but sometime over the last two weeks Google published the new Subscribe with Google (SwG) Content Policies.
Google has the policies divided into two sections – ‘user’ and ‘content’ – which seems like an odd way to do it. When they say ‘user’, they mean the publisher of the content, not the subscriber.
Please note: I am not going through every SwG content policy here. I’m just highlighting some and discussing them. If you are considering using SwG, please be sure to read them yourself.
Okay, let’s dig in.
As expected, adult/sexual related content is not allowed.
Misrepresentation, being deceptive, promoting illegal activities, copyright infringement – all not allowed of course.
Have a site with martini recipes?
It might be best to avoid using SwG. While alcohol is not specifically mentioned, they do say that:
“Content that promotes or features the sale, use, or abuse of illegal drugs, regulated legal drugs or substances, or other dangerous products is not suitable for the service.”(bolding mine)
Content related to weapons and firearms is prohibited.
Have a site focused on martials arts instruction?
Best to avoid using SwG for that too. Their policy against weapon related content includes “martial arts weapons”. That Tai Chi Sword Form my 80 year old parents perform so beautifully would get them kicked out of SwG. And don’t even think about the knife and gun defense we do at my Tae Kwon Do school!
Politics and Questioning Authority
It’s unfortunate, but obvious to everyone, that Google is a political animal.
There are some SwG policies that could easily be interpreted to prohibit content that someone at Google just doesn’t like.
We do not allow content that makes claims that are demonstrably false and could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.
We do not allow content that promotes harmful health claims, miracle cures, or relates to a current, major health crisis and contradicts authoritative scientific consensus.
We do not allow content that deceives users through manipulated media related to politics, social issues, or matters of public concern.
“We do not allow content that harasses, intimidates, or bullies an individual or group of individuals”
“We do not allow content that incites hatred against, promotes discrimination of, or disparages an individual or group on the basis of their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization”
These policies can be viewed very differently based on the person judging the content. Even stating one’s views, religious beliefs, or advocating for or against a law, could be interpreted as harassing or disparaging some “group”, even if the publisher is a member of that group.
Having content that throws doubt on current narratives or “authoritative scientific consensus” may put your SwG revenue stream in jeopardy. I could argue against that policy all day long. Isn’t good science and good journalism based on questions and skepticism?
If your site could be considered politically controversial, religious, conservative, questions scientific dogma, or has alternative viewpoints that someone at Google may disagree with or be ‘offended’ by, in my opinion it would be too risky to base your subscription program on Subscribe with Google.
What Sites are Safe for use with Subscribe with Google?
SwG is designed primarily for news sites.
Some news sites have conservative viewpoints or question authority. That’s going to be a little more risky. At least until we see how Google is going to apply these guidelines.
But general, mainstream and left-leaning news sites, and most tech, hobby, niche and family friendly sites that are not politically inclined, should be fine…. as long as they otherwise follow the content policies.
What Happens if Google Decides Your Site Is Violating the Policies?
If you apply and they turn you down up front, count your blessings.
You can either try to straighten it out if they’re wrong (and they do make mistakes), or move on and find another way to run a subscription program. It’s best to know right away if it’s not going to work out.
If you have subscribers and are earning revenue from SwG and – then – they decide you’re in violation of their policies, you’ve got a bigger issue on your hands.
Demonetization has been a problem that many AdSense publishers and YouTube creators have had to deal with. I expect it will be an issue with SwG as well.
“If violations of this policy are discovered, we may restrict or suspend your publication.”
They go on to say:
“Use of the service and any related accounts may be suspended or terminated if you have several violations or a serious violation. If this happens, all transactions on the service involved with any suspended account may be disabled – including already initiated transactions. We may no longer allow you to use the service and transact on it. Any related accounts may also get permanently suspended and you may not be allowed to open a new account.
If your access to a paid subscription on Subscribe with Google is denied due to violation of the policies above, we will refund you the balance of the paid subscriptions from the date when access was denied.”
Google does not currently provide any details on ways to appeal or contest SwG suspensions or terminations.
A Back Up Plan is Always Prudent
SwG allows publishers to view and export names and Gmail addresses of subscribers/contributors.
This gives us a big advantage over AdSense publishers or YouTube creators that have their accounts suspended.
Export and back up your subscriber names and Gmail addresses on a regular basis.
This way, if there is an issue, you can contact your subscribers to arrange other ways for them to continue supporting your site through subscriptions or contributions.
Keep in mind that SwG is not alone in having content policies. Any competing service or card processor is also going to have policies, limits, and requirements.
With the constant threat of Google pulling the rug out from under your revenue generating subscription program, should you use and depend on Subscribe with Google?
Yes… and no…
The benefits of using SwG for your subscription program are fantastic. The ease of use for both the publisher and subscriber. The easy set up. No up front costs. Low ongoing costs. All make it worthwhile.
The vast majority of legitimate publishers won’t have any trouble complying with the policies. Most SwG publishers will never have an issue with a suspension or termination.
However, know what you are getting into before diving in. Make sure you read through and understand the policies.
I do wish that SwG would design a system for formal suspension/termination appeals with a (truly) non-biased arbitration process.