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Google blacklists sites owned by British official for copyright infringement

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Google has blacklisted a network of websites run by the family of the newly promoted Tory party co-chairman, Grant Shapps, for breaching its rules on copyright infringement. A string of at least 19 sites run by the wife, sister or 75-year-old mother of Shapps have been banned from carrying Google’s adverts and been relegated to the bottom of its search results.

Google has placed the websites on a blacklist of sites found guilty of breaching its rules after the Guardian exposed one of the sites selling software to help others breach copyright regulations. The network of websites, which includes howto-findhappiness.com and meaning-of-dreams.com, breached the rules by replicating content from other sites in a process known as “spinning and scraping” in order to jump higher up Google’s search rankings and increase advertising revenue.

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The ban means the websites owned by Shapps’s wife, Belinda, will no longer be able to carry adverts via Google’s AdSense network, and have been demoted to the bottom of Google’s index, which will make them very hard to find.

“We take copyright very seriously and invest significant time and money in keeping advertisers and publishers that violate our policies out of our network,” it said in a statement. “Google bans ads and advertisers involved in activities that infringe on copyright from using our systems and prohibits publishers that violate copyright from participating in AdSense.”

Google refused to comment specifically about the websites run by Shapps’s family, but a source at Google said: “One site that was brought to our attention was in violation of AdSense policies. We had the ads taken down. We don’t allow ads to run on sites that violate these policies, hence why there are no ads on these.

“Separately from AdSense, as the sites are largely based on scraped content, as we’ve said before, they’ll be naturally demoted by our search algorithms.”

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Earlier this week, the Guardian revealed that Google was investigating software sold by HowToCorp, a website set up by Shapps and his wife. Shapps said that the company behind HowToCorp and the TrafficPaymaster software had transferred to his wife in 2008 and was now run entirely independently of him.

Shapps co-founded the HowToCorp.com, the “mother” site of the Shapps family network in 2002 and he is no longer named on any of the company documents. However, his mother, Beryl, is the company secretary of the business behind www.auctiongirl.co.uk, another site that has been banned from hosting Google’s ads. His sister is also involved with the company, which sells goods on eBay on behalf of clients and takes a 50% cut of the takings. The web address for auctiongirl.co.uk is owned by HowtoCorp.com.

The network of businesses are run from the same server that runs Shapps’s official parliamentary website and a number of campaigning websites he set up.

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Michael Green, an alias Shapps admits to having created and used to front his online work order to distinguish it from his political work, is described as “a member of the UK parliament, is a CEO of How To Corporation and is a successful online marketer”.

Shapps and the Conservative party declined to comment on Google’s ban but a spokesman for the party confirmed that his mother and sister were also involved in the businesses. The spokesman also revealed that following the Guardian’s report earlier this week about concerns surrounding the Shapps family’s internet company and its compliance with Google rules, the head of the civil service had investigated whether Shapps was in breach of separate rules for government ministers which dictate that all business interests are publicly declared. Their investigation cleared Shapps.

A spokesman for Shapps said he no longer wrote books and articles under the name Michael Green and that his wife had taken over the pen name. The spokesman added that the Daily Income website that describes Green as an MP is “nothing to do with Grant whatsoever, and is out of date”. Shapps’s spokesman previously said: “Grant Shapps derives no income, dividends, or other income from this business, which is run by his wife, Belinda, with a registered office in Pinner in north-west London. He is quite simply not involved in this business.

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“Mrs Shapps runs her own online business, uses freelancers, moderators and programmers to post on forums, generate products and maintain a help desk.”

Google’s banning of the Shapps family is likely to embarrass David Cameron, and other senior Tories, who have built up very close ties with the powerful internet company. Official records show Tory ministers held at least 23 meetings with Google bosses between the 2010 general election and May 2012.

Belinda Shapps declined to comment and directed all questions to the head of the Tory party press office.

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© Guardian News and Media 2012

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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