If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter and Google tonight, you’ve probably run across this plea for exposure, and ultimately help from a fellow who has had his Google account deactivated for alleged violations of TOS:
(EDIT: This link no longer works. The original content is quoted below)
I would like to bring to your attention a few things before I disconnect permanently from all of your services.
On July 15 2011 you turned off my entire Google account. You had absolutely no reason to do this, despite your automated message telling me your system “perceived a violation.” I did not violate any Terms of Service, either Google’s or account specific ToS, and your refusal to provide me with any proof otherwise makes me absolutely certain of this. And I would like to bring to your attention how much damage your carelessness has done.
My Google account was tied to nearly every product Google has developed, meaning that I lost everything in those accounts as well. I was also in the process of consolidating everything into my one Google account. I had actually thought through this a few months ago and determined Google to be a trustworthy, dependable company. So I had imported all of my other email accounts, hotmail, yahoo, etc., into that one gmail account. I had spent roughly four months slowly consolidating my entire online presence, email accounts, banking info, student records, etc., into that one Google account, having determined it to be reliable. That means in terms of information, approximately 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, my Google Voice messages, over 500 articles saved to my Google Reader account for scholarship purposes (a side-note: when I closed my original Reader account to consolidate everything in my one reliable account bearing my name I re-saved several hundred of the articles myself, by hand, one by one to this new account. The one you have closed and from which I have now lost all of the articles.) I have lost all of my bookmarks, having used Google bookmarks. I had migrated my bookmarks from computer to computer, a couple hundred of them, for maybe six years and I finally uploaded them all to Google bookmarks, happy to have found a solution to migrating them and happy to be safeguarded from their loss. I have also lost over 200 contacts. Many of which I do not have backups of. I have also lost access to my Docs account with shared documents and backups of inventory files. I have also lost my Calendar access. With this I have lost not only my own personal calendar of doctor’s appointments, meetings, and various other dates, but I have also lost collaborative calendars, of which I was the creator and of which several man hours were put into creating, community calendars that are now lost. None of the calendars were backed up either. I have also lost my saved maps and travel history. I have also lost in my correspondence medical records and a variety of very important notes that were attached to my account. My website, a blogger account for which I purchased the domain through Google and designed myself, has also been disabled and lost. Do you really think I would knowingly do anything to jeopardize that much of my personal and professional information? And I am sure as the days continue I will realize other things that Google has destroyed in their unwarranted disabling of my account. I am only too angry right now to think straight and realize them all. Why anyone would entrust anything to “The Cloud” after what I have gone through is completely beyond my ability to comprehend.
I should also mention that I am in fact a paying customer in so much as I purchased my domain through Google and I have purchased additional storage from Google.
A few other things I would like you to consider: I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school. I was occasionally receiving emails from professors and other people who I am not expecting and whose contact info I do not have. Meaning that in addition to my friends and family abroad or people who otherwise may not be able to reach me, these people too will now receive a message from Google that my email address does not exist. And I would imagine some of them will not have the time to find other ways of contacting an applicant whom they were doing a favor to begin with.
A few other things I would like you to consider: I have been what you could call an enthusiastic supporter of Google as a company. As an early-adopter, you could nearly go so far as to say I have been an apostle of Google’s work. Google would prematurely release products, and I would contribute to the feedback on those products. When Google pulled off their political stunt in China by re-routing the servers to Hong Kong I lauded them and posted the articles written about it to all of my social networks and I remarked, verbatim, to several people I know “That was done with class and dignity.” I had also convinced the company I worked for to get on Google Business Apps and to use Google Apps for nearly everything possible. I also encouraged them to purchase storage with Picasa to build our image database. Additionally, I have convinced nearly all of my friends and family to open either a Google or a Gmail account in the past two years, and have shown people how to use them and explained the benefits of Chrome over all other browsers. I even own Google stock.
A few other things I would like you to consider: I’m not upset that Google would put my account on hold if they think it was compromised, but I am absolutely furious that they would disable my account without notice, without giving me a reason, and without giving me any way to re-enable it, and then ignore all of my attempts to speak with someone. No other online service provider behaves this way. I understand that Google can’t offer support for every little thing, but when a company like Google has monopolized sectors of the internet they need to demonstrate some responsibility to their customers when things like this happen. I have exhausted the help forums. And that has only made me much angrier. I will not bother to quote the nonsensical exchanges I have had, there are too many and they will only aggravate me further. The breaking point came when a “Top Contributor” moved my thread from the original help forum in which I posted it, into another forum without my permission. Then a few days, and 34 responses, later, another “Top Contributor” posted that my thread was in the wrong forum and closed the conversation, thus preventing me or anyone else from posting to it or making any more progress. The user forums are not the informative places that Google may think they are. And the only time a Google employee posted in my thread was to say that my question was in the wrong forum, and to tell me that I should have posted in the forum that it was originally posted in. This came after being asked over, and over, and over again the same questions. Here’s an example:
ME: Please help me my account has been disabled and I don’t know why.
USER1: Just log into your dashboard and do [something.]
ME: I can’t, my account has been disabled.
USER2: Hi I just saw your post. Can you log into your account and tell me what [something] says?
ME: NO, I CAN’T LOG INTO MY ACCOUNT.
USER1: OK calm down, can you do [something which required me to log in]?
ME: NO! I CANNOT LOG INTO MY ACCOUNT!!!!
Then the conversation was closed by someone and I gave up, after five days. I understand the philosophy behind user moderated forums. But in many cases problems are out of the reach of other users. I am not asking how to enable emoticons in a gmail signature or how to change my profile picture. This is a serious issue for which a serious avenue of appeal should be available. I believe what I am saying to be valid criticism of deficiencies within user-powered communities that are evolving online and summarily forfeiting many rights that should be inherent in any community, virtual or otherwise. Google has set up an Animal Farm of a support system on their site run by some users who are well intentioned, some who are not, but all being wholly incapable of making administration level decisions or offering administration level help. And that can function smoothly for both the user and the company, as long as the company steps in and takes responsibility when the resolution of an issue is entirely beyond the ability of another user to resolve. Google does not do this.
In the Gmail Help Forum there are 7 sub-forums to choose from regarding Gmail. I think it is a fine idea to allow other willing users to handle the questions in the “Composing and Sending Messages” forum or the “Reading and Receiving Messages” forum. And according to Google’s own records, on 07/21/11, a perfectly average day, there were 174 questions related to account access posted in the Gmail Help Forum. According to the 2010 estimate Google employs 24,400 people. Google currently holds $57.851 billion in assets. According to Google 99% of that money has been brought in through advertising programs. We are your audience. I suggest one of two things: either delegate one or two people to respond to those 174 daily questions regarding account access, many of which will more than likely require a one sentence response, or hire one of the 14.1 million unemployed Americans to do it for you.
I do not care that a Google service is free. That is Google embracing a “You don’t like it? Too bad, it’s free anyway” approach. Free or not, all users are in the Google orbit and it is through advertising to us, their base, that Google has made the billions of dollars they have. There is no other corporation trading stock at the level of Google that does not offer customer support, plain and simple.
In addition to the forums I also filed every form and request I could find and attempted to contact every office and even went in person to both Manhattan offices, but not one single person has been able to offer any assistance, which I find shocking and infuriating in a Kafkaesque nightmarish way. I was even told by one employee that they don’t know what I should do and that, “Honestly, I don’t even use Google.”
After exploring every possible channel for help I was finally contacted out of the blue by an employee of Google who had coincidentally seen my ranting on Twitter, a service which I employed due to Google’s own complete lack of customer support. He said he would try to contact people at Google and help get my account restored. After emailing back and forth with him he reported that he spoke with someone at Google who told him my account had been disabled and they didn’t tell him why. He tried to explain to them that it must have been a mistake, but they would not explain themselves. So Google, here is something else I want you to consider. One of your own employees went to you on my behalf and notified you that you had disabled my account by mistake, and your response was “No, we’re pretty sure about it.” Your own employee said “Listen, I have been communicating with this person and I think there has been a mistake made, you should double check or talk to him about it.” And again your response was “No, we’re pretty sure.” So ask yourselves, would someone such as myself who has had their account disabled go on such a vociferous and widespread campaign to speak with someone at Google in order to explain to them that there has been a mistake and that you have destroyed years of important personal data, would someone such as myself do that while knowingly conducting illegal activity with my account? You only need common sense to answer that.
A few other things: I have had hotmail, yahoo, aol, and compuserve accounts and I have never had an account disabled. When one of those companies believed that my account was compromised they have notified me and I have changed my password. Why Google didn’t notify me at the alternate email address I provided at sign up before they took it upon themselves to disable my account completely baffles me. If you say I have violated some Terms of Service that is your right to say and in such a case it is within your right to terminate my service. But I am asking now for even a modicum of proof of that violation.
Regarding any perceived violation, let me be completely clear about something: I did not violate any terms of service. If Google thinks there was something done on my part I challenge them to tell me what it is. I have in no way violated any Terms of Service and that is a matter of fact. I mention now that a few days before my account was disabled I was getting error messages when trying to access Google.com via Chrome. I am also not the only person I know that this was happening to. My other friends and family on Chrome were getting error messages when trying to access Google.com. I believe they were redirect notices or site certificate notices. My Google Plus account was behaving strangely prior to my account being disabled as well. But I run regular virus checks and have never had a computer virus. Any “perceived violation” is a misunderstanding on Google’s part, and that too is a fact.
You have cut off my communication, disrupted my personal and professional life, effectively stolen vast amounts of my personal and professional data, accused me of something without telling me that I am accused, accused me of something without telling me what it is that you have accused me of, blocked any direct communication with my accuser, and given me no ability to appeal this decision or to speak with someone on the facts of the case. This company is headed down a very, very menacing path if it continues in this way.
Several calls have been made in the U.N. for Internet access and basic communication and information services to be made a human right. In Greece, Spain, France, and parts of Scandinavia this has already been granted. It won’t be long until there are laws in place regarding the personal accounts used to access those communication and information services, and laws safeguarding the personal information in those accounts, such as correspondence. It is unforgivable that a company such as Google, which claims so much of the communication and information thruways, would not take the lead on this issue and instead choose to drag their feet until they are forced by individual governments. Companies like Google are taking advantage of the current laws and writing into their Terms of Service clauses such as:
“…you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”
These are not sustainable terms and I have no doubt they will be altered at some point in the future. Most major news organizations, such as the Washington Post, have already begun to examine Google and other companies who choose to force these terms upon their customers and the ramifications they hold for artists. To see Google embrace them along with every other company like a pig in shit is vile and inexcusable.
One day the Internet will most likely be as fiercely regulated as the phone lines it began on. And when that day comes it will come as a force of government, and it will mark another failure for the Free Market to proactively defend the liberty of its citizen customers. And I truly fear for the future of social and political dissidence which will struggle to exist in the lull between open networks and the current policy climate in which Google’s Director of Privacy Alma Whitten has publicly championed YouTube as a way for political activists to post content anonymously only months before a complete reversal of policy quietly eliminating anonymous reporting completely.
I would also like to mention that I will absolutely not be opening another Google account. As I mentioned before, I have been nothing short of an apostle on behalf of Google, but that is over. I will be terminating Google Apps within the company I work for, and shutting down any other Google products I use, even things such as Google News which I had previously accessed several times a day. I was even about to switch from my iPhone to an Android device. But I will instead be expending just as much energy as I did praising Google into denouncing what I now consider to be a horrible company, with shameful practices. I will be contacting my congressman, I will be selling my stock and I will also be contacting my bank regarding the money paid for the domain and storage which are now inaccessible, and I will pressure Google by any means possible to explain to me what it is that they perceived as a violation. The terms that are now offered for account sign up: “Google reserves the right to: Terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice” are not sustainable terms, and at some point a court will decide that those are unacceptable terms. As Google is a company that people entrust with so much of their personal information, and that is relied on so heavily, they need to provide proof of what it is that causes an account to be disabled. Again, you cannot take people’s money and you cannot monopolize entire sectors of the internet without showing some degree of responsibility to your customers. I should expect that Google will be forced to provide a means of retrieving personal info, such as correspondence and contacts, when an account is closed. The fact that Google does not currently offer this option when they baselessly disable a user’s account only adds insult to injury.
When I think of all the business I have brought Google, all the people I have brought over from yahoo and hotmail, all the praise I have showered on Android, and all the work I put into my company’s enrollment in Google Apps, I am enraged and truly regret my actions. And I will be doing everything possible to reverse those actions, and everything possible to pressure Google to be a more responsible company.
Shame on you and on your associates and on your employees who tolerate such deplorable, dishonorable, and reprehensible business practices.
Whether this chap is right or wrong regarding his account’s status at Google, most of his woes could have been prevented by keeping offline backups of his important data.
Yes, backups are a pain in the rear sometimes. A good backup solution can take time and money to set up in the beginning, but will really save you a lot of time and frustration down the road, should the unexpected happen.
This is also a lesson about relying on “cloud” services, such as Google, iCloud, Amazon AWS, virtualization, etc. If you have data or services you can’t live without for your personal life or for your business, you have to have a way to bring that data or those services online outside of your normal operating parameters should disaster strike!
Take a look at what you cannot afford to lose in your digital realm, and make sure you have a copy in a safe place. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase “Disaster Recovery”, it’s time to educate yourself. Ask your favorite computer support person, or grab a drink and search online for some reading material on the subject, and figure out what you should have in place to protect your data.
Hard drives are cheap. Backups are priceless!
EDIT: It appears there was a resolution to this whole mess! http://www.twitlonger.com/show/bvqdos
I’ll say it again: Backups are priceless!