We are better off if we ignore what Google is saying and follow one thing: Google wants more money for Google. When we make this assumption, everything Google does makes sense. Deception and doublespeak are logical and expected rather than shocking and upsetting.
When it comes to scale, as pointed out with Groupon, all of these rules go out the window. If you look at the biggest advertisers, replace their account with one with no history and the brand "Geico" with "SEOBook auto insurance" and the campaign will simply not run. You are spam. In some cases larger advertisers are able to run ads which are clearly deceptive and go against guidelines which they actively enforce on smaller advertisers. I have a strong suspicion now that this is in fact institutionalized in Google's rating process rather than any employee going out of their way to overturn some sort of penalty.
Google will not disrupt a site or advertiser that will negatively impact their own quarterly earnings. When Google does disrupt one, it is because they have a backup in place. That backup may be their own internal project or a competitor of yours who sends 95% of their advertising through Google's ad platforms. When Google claimed they were going after content farms, and Demand Media's properties (which are explicitly spam) were spared, the reason was obvious, because it would have visibly impacted their bottom line.
Brand is a deceptive concept. A hairy, smelly drug addict that compulsively molests women is not a sex offender but rather a globally famous rock star. Much the same holds true to many of the biggest brands. As long as a brand spams, that spam is opaque to Google's customer base and their customers do not bring a negative association with Google's brand. However, when that same hairy, smelly drug addict is anonymous he is a nuisance which destroys your reputation when you publicly associate yourself with him.
Google is like an oil company which not only dictates the price of oil but also chooses where an oil field will exist. Google is now "too big to fail" as indicated by the recent DOJ investigation which could have resulted in a felony charge for their co-founder, and most certainly would have for a smaller firm without $500m of liquid cash. We should be thankful that visitors are still directed to our websites when they could simply receive excerpts of what they are searching for.
My conclusion: first, I monetize my existing sites with Google's own products as much as possible. Second: I no longer invest my time or money in new businesses that require Google's traffic. Google should expect more walled content gardens in their future. Google's biggest challengers such as Facebook and Apple recognize this, and their platforms are very much walled gardens. That is too bad for the web as we know it today.
As a consumer I want Google to have the best, most trustworthy experience possible. They can fight SEOs and affiliates all day long and it doesn't bother me. I fully expected the innovative waves that helped the web destroy old media do the same again to itself. But, when Google lies, and do things that in fact damage that consumers experience no longer can I defend Google (when eHow first started popping up in 50% of the searches I did I was shocked; I am absolutely appalled they still show up on page 1 for anything, the articles are obviously written by authors that re-hashed another article in 10 minutes and often factually incorrect on top of it.)
Andrew Johnson submitted the above (less the image) as a comment here, but we thought it deserved to be its own post on the blog so more people get to see it.