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Associated Content, the startup backed by top Google sales executive Tim Armstrong, is controversial because of accusations — hardly denied by CEO Geoff Reiss — that the company is gaming AdSense, Google's system for placing advertisements on other websites. Specifically, Associated Content pays bloggers to write articles on niche topics designed to attract lucrative ads. The problem with the scheme, of course, is that Google's advertisers are interested in placing ads on relevant, high-quality websites, not pages ginned up solely to make a buck. But what's most suspicious about AC is how well, and how quickly, it pays people to gin up those articles.The blog recently reviewed AC along with competitors Helium and Triond. AC's distinction: Rather than just paying per pageview, Armstrong and Reiss's company pays bloggers upfront. What's the big deal about that? For that business model to make sense, Associated Content must have a very good idea of what keywords are worth, letting it predict how much AdSense revenue a given article will generate. And that suggests that Associated Content has hacked Google's algorithm, reverse-engineering it to profit at Google advertisers' expense. Not a very seemly activity for Armstrong to preside over. How much longer will Google, which up until now has sanctioned Armstrong's side venture, allow it to continue?