Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps helped 'found' a business selling software that increases a website's advertising revenue by breaching Google's code of practice, reports The Guardian.
The HowToCorp business was set up by Shapps in 2005, and sells TrafficPaymaster, which creates web pages by "spinning and scraping" content from other sites to attract advertising from Google, says the paper. TrafficPaymaster creates "an instant cashflow by appearing to plagiarise information", it says.Websites are paid for hosting ads on Google's behalf using the AdSense service, which scans a web page and posts adverts related to the content.
The Guardian points out that Google has strict rules on "unoriginal content". Its AdSense policy says, "Sometimes we come across sites that are using software to generate automated content.
"These sites might look like normal news sites, but the information is completely plagiarised. Scraping content and passing it off as one's own is not only wrong, but it also happens to be a serious violation of our policies."
In 2008, Shapps transferred his share of HowToCorp to his wife, Belinda.
The Guardian said "sources at Google" confirmed that "TrafficPaymaster was in violation of its policies" and that its search engine's algorithms had "been equipped to drop the ranking of any webpages created using HowToCorp's software".
A spokesman for Shapps told the paper, "Grant Shapps derives no income, dividends, or other income from this business, which is run by his wife Belinda."
Last year Google issued a warning to web publishers that carry its ads after noticing that some of them were improperly altering ad formats, behaviour and targeting.
These types of tampering not only violated the terms and conditions of the AdSense programme, but also harm the efficacy of the ads, Google said. A common tampering practice involves placing AdSense ad code within an iframe, so that it can be displayed on another page, a practice Google forbids.
Also last year, Google said it had made progress on four copyright-protection initiatives. The company said it had finished building tools that now allow it to act in 24 hours or less on valid complaints from copyright owners that their content is appearing without permission on Google sites, enabling the search giant to take down the content.