Dealing with the Byzantine machinery of a government department or large multinationals can be dispiriting. We’ve all had more than our fair share of waiting on hold and filling in forms.
Google, long-known as an innovator, has taken this to all new Kafkaesque levels.
On February 6th, at 10.22am, I was kicked out of my Gmail account. ‘Probably a connection issue,’ I naively thought to myself as I tried to log back in.
After typing in my password I was taken to a screen which contained only two lines of text. One saying my account had been disabled and another that I could find out more by clicking a link.
This turned out to be something of an exaggeration.
All the link revealed was that accounts are usually disabled because of a perceived ‘violation of terms of service’. Then some further links inviting me to read the lengthy ToS. There was no indication as to what violation I was accused of. It is now 11 days later and I still have no idea.
I was then invited, as part of the ‘appeal’ process, to confirm I’d read the terms and then supply extra information to support my claim.
How anyone is supposed to defend themselves against unspecified charges is beyond me.
In his 1925 classic The Trial, Franz Kafka describes the lot of Mr K, who is unexpectedly arrested for an unspecified crime. The charge remains unknown and guilt is assumed.
Two working weeks later and despite filling in the form to the best of my ability my Google account is still disabled. I have received not one word from Google other than telling me, via generic email, that my appeal had failed and that if I wanted to try again could I please explain how I am innocent of this nameless charge.
Fortunately, I do not really use my Google account for work. Although being denied access to the drive I share with our publishing partners might prove an annoyance and I haven’t been able to check this website’s analytics for two weeks, there is nothing that I can’t get around. I do sometimes upload documents to the drive while researching articles but I don’t keep anything vital on there.
I imagine that others would not be so fortunate. How many of you reading this keep invoices, portfolios or drafts of every sort in your Google Drive or Gmail? How many clients or prospective employers would not be able to reach you?
If you are an independent public relations professional this could be disastrous. In this world where we all take our laptops home to work during any spare minute even those employed by agencies or in-house could lose a great deal if shut off from Google.
And then think of this from a personal level. I was an early adopter of Gmail. So every email I have sent to my girlfriend over the last eight years is gone. And if Google doesn’t change its mind they will be lost forever.
It is like having someone break in to your home and throw every love letter you ever wrote on the fire. As I’m sure you can tell, I’m quite upset about it.
Just like the protagonist from The Trial I have no recourse. Like poor Mr K I am unable to defend myself or make a case for having my account reinstated as I have no idea what the charge is and received no warning.
Given that Google does its best to make its products vital to our everyday lives it does not seem unreasonable to expect a warning if you have accidentally breached the terms of service, does it?
So take my advice, make sure you aren’t too reliant on Google – because one day you could lose it all and there will be nothing you can do about it.
Google was contacted for comment, agreed to do so then I didn’t hear any more from them.
My Google Account has been restored. I received a generic email on Sunday morning stating my account had been ‘temporarily disabled’ and that if I logged in it would be restored, though I received no further explanation as to why this has happened.
Image courtesy of flickr user Cory Doctorow