Guy gets locked out of all Google apps

Nick Saber, president of CrossTech Media, came back from lunch on Monday and tried to log on to his Gmail account. Instead of his email, he got this message:
Sorry, your account has been disabled. [?]
When he emailed Google's customer support, he got the following:
Thank you for your report. We’ve completed our investigation. Because our investigation was inconclusive, we are unable to return your account at this time. At Google we take the privacy and security of our users very seriously. For this reason, we’re unable to reveal any further information about this account.
Chris Brogan reports:
Suddenly, Nick can’t access his Gmail account, can’t open Google Talk (our office IM app), can’t open Picasa where his family pictures are, can’t use his Google Docs, and oh by the way, he paid for additional storage. So, this is a paying customer with no access to the Google empire.
When Google Owns You (Chris Brogan)


  1. Finally, and example to point to when I have to explain to somebody yet again why I don’t want to handle every damn aspect of my life with a Google app. I’m not enough of a jerk to say “he got what he deserved,” but this should be a loud and clear warning against putting all of your eggs in one basket.

  2. I fear that all the time. Another reminder that the efficiency of centralization is sometimes no match for redundancies and diversity.

    Sorry, was that too philosophical?

  3. I was just thinking about this today – specifically wondering if Google, like Microsoft and now Yahoo, delete an email account after it has been ‘abbandoned’, e.g.: not logged in for a specific period of time. I forward my yahoo mail, and despite this, recently found my account shut down and years of email (literally thousands of messages) deleted without warning – because I hadn’t logged in in a couple of months. Clearly a peeved customer, I’ll soon be moving from and will never promote or use a Yahoo property again. If google is pulling a similar stunt – for different reasons, presumably ‘misuse’ rather than ‘under use’ – one wonders what provider can be trusted for such vital services over the long term.

  4. If google is pulling a similar stunt – for different reasons, presumably ‘misuse’ rather than ‘under use’ – one wonders what provider can be trusted for such vital services over the long term.

    Keep wondering.

  5. This kind of situation is exactly why one should not use on-line backup services. They have your data, if they don’t want to give it back when you need to recover something, you are screwed!

  6. This kind of situation is exactly why one should not use on-line backup services. They have your data, if they don’t want to give it back when you need to recover something, you are screwed!

    Rather, you shouldn’t solely rely on online backups, and of course anyone else handling your data should only receive a strong encrypted version thereof.

    It’s a workflow… the most everyday example I can cite is Flickr for photos. First, you have your photo collection that you import into iPhoto or Aperture. Then assume that gets backed up nightly to a Time Capsule or other NAS. Then, you also publish those photos to Flickr.

    Additionally, you can backup your encrypted Time Capsule disk to Amazon S3. (I presume Apple wants you to pay for Mobile Me to do this automagically.)

    So now you have copies of your photos on your laptop, on your networked storage at home, and in two remote locations.

    There’s no single point of failure, and it would take the poles shifting to lose your data — at which point you might have bigger problems to worry about. (Or, just to be safe, make monthly backups to optical DVD-R media.)

  7. That “obsolete” 1990s practice of keeping your data and applications on your own “personal computer” wasn’t so dumb after all, one thinks.

  8. Jesus, I’m sure its just an accident. It’ll probably be resolved shortly so why even bother flipping out?

  9. Account creation date

    Oh, man, I would never know the answers to these questions. I guess I’d have to fly to California with my state ID, birth certificate, and second-born cat to prove meself.

  10. Its a shame, and I am glad he got back in, but reduncancy helps… use thunderbird to automatically download all your email you don’t even need to use thunderbird for anything BUT downloading your email for backup… any documents can be grabbed from google apps, and pictures as well… burn them to the occasional optical backup and you should be fine. Never trust google will always be there, never trust yahoo will always be there, do I really need to say never trust MS? Multiple backups online off and regular working storage… can’t be stressed enough. I have optical discs going back 10 years, my very first burned CDR (which I have backed up on newer discs just in case) actually still works even today.

  11. i got my Google account cut off a few years ago; bombarded them with questions until i finally got some half assed reply from some brusque flunky about my having “violated the agreement” and a reference to a completely run of the mill Usenet post i had posted via Google groups. couldn’t get an answer as to what precisely violated what. so i opened up a new account, but it was a pain in terms of being able to look up my old posts in Google groups. anyway, that was before all the Google apps, but do you think there is the slightest way I’d put my stuff in their hands?

  12. This is why I use Google Apps for my domain. Sure, I still could have a problem where Google cuts me off, and I lose all of my old e-mails. I could also lose my calendar, and Google docs. But really, if I lost all that, it would be annoying, but not doom. If I really need something, I save it offline.

    Because I control the DNS record for the domain, I could always point the MX records back at my own servers, and get all my e-mail the old fashioned way. I used to do it that way, but switched to Google because running a mail server sucks. Still, it’s better than no e-mail at all.

    I really wish that Google would sell Google apps as a software product I could install on my own web server. That way I don’t have to worry about the issues of the cloud, but I still get the awesomeness of the Google web interface.

  13. Google docs is starting to offer an “offline” link that’ll replicate all your docs onto your local hard drive. Might be a good idea to do that once in a while, to forestall against some cretin guessing your password and using your login to send spam or threatening emails to public officials.

  14. If your foolish enough to use Google for business critical applications, well then, Bòn Apétit.

  15. Wait — there are people who don’t keep local backups of their important email and documents?

    I feel so old-fashioned. I keep the things I want to always have where I can always get at them, on my hard drive (and my backups).

    Get off my lawn!

  16. What I’m mystified by is the idea that access to these dates can authenticate your identity. If your gmail account has been hijacked, then whoever has access to it KNOWS the answer to all of these questions based on welcome emails. Whereas you, the real user, don’t since you can’t get in to it to look it up. That’s the most idiotic authentication system ever.

  17. In terms of Google’s cryptic and unhelpful responses to such things, I had a similar experience a couple of years ago with Google Adsense.

    I never really signed up for Adsense for much reason other than a idle curiousity and a sort of “Why not?” attitude, but I figure I’d post a couple of ads on my WordPress blog and see what came of it. More of an experiment than anything else, since I seldom got more than two hits a year on my rather obscure blog.

    However, one day I get an e-mail from Google Adsense’s security department accusing me of “Click Fraud.” They indicate that they have summarily suspended my account on the basis of this, but that I am welcome to appeal this decision.

    So, being more irate about being accused of something I didn’t do than worrying too much about any concept of actual revenue having accrued, I send an e-mail off to the provided appeals address asking them politely to explain what exactly is going on, what they mean specifically by Click Fraud and how they came to that conclusion.

    Their response was basically a generic “We have reviewed your account and confirmed that invalid clicks were generated on the ads on your site and have therefore permanently deleted your account to protect our advertisers.”

    Attempts to get more information resulted in comments that their monitoring systems were proprietary and confidential so they were unable to divulge exactly how they had come to this conclusion, but that according to the fine print on their policies, they had the right and obligation to delete my account without further notice or investigation. While technically speaking that is in their user agreement, their whole attitude of “Take our word for it, you’re wrong because we say so and we don’t have to prove anything to you” was definitely unsettling.

    While I couldn’t have cared less about my AdSense account, the general principle and rather summary feeling of the whole experience left a very bad taste about Google in my mouth in general terms.

    After reading the general terms of service for things like GMail and finding similar clauses (we can suspend your account for any reason and we don’t have to tell you why because our reasons are super-secret), I quickly came to the conclusion that Google was the very LAST place I wanted to host any serious part of my life.

  18. what were you thinking? that they were providing YOU with some kind of SERVICE?

    hoo boy.

  19. “You may not always get what you pay for, but never count on getting what you don’t pay for.”

    If you need decent support, expect to pay for it. Saying “but the advertisers are paying for it” isn’t enough — that means the vendor will be responsive to the advertisers, but not necessarily to you unless they think you’ve got enough clout to embarrass them in front of the sponsors.

  20. This is a clear example of why it’s a good idea to compute locally. Don’t hand over your data to a faceless corporation and hope that they’ll always be nice to you. If you keep it on your local drive, it’s yours. Give it to someone else, and it’s no longer yours.

    I think I’ll downgrade to DOS 3.1 and WordPerfect. It seemed to work just fine.

  21. Anyone who thinks this little blip of a problem supports any theories in opposition to cloud computing is of course kidding themselves.

    Everyone’s needs are different. Every solution to every problem carries with it an interesting set of pros and cons that should be evaluated relative to your situation. Online apps are one of many solutions and for some they make good sense.

    For those that are upset about their free service not living up to their expectations, well that’s just silly.

    Regardless of how sophisticated your IT infrastructure is, you are always stuck relying on a service provider. You rely on X to provide internet access, X to provide reliable code for systems you run locally, X to provide stable hardware to run it on, and perhaps X to provide a stable online service. All of those systems will fail at one point or another and when they do, it sucks. But it is what it is. The key point is how good of a job you’ve done to integrate them to provide yourself with some redundancy when things go bad. The devil is in those details far more than the availability of any one of the services or systems that you’ve no choice but to rely on.

  22. “Jesus, I’m sure its just an accident. It’ll probably be resolved shortly so why even bother flipping out?”

    …Because, accident or no, the inability to come to a speedy resolution – read: speaking with a real person here in the US and not some 50-cent/hr scriptreader in New Delhi – merely proves that the whole concept of apps and storage being located away from your PC and on some centralized server as things used to be in the old mainframe days are not a safe and viable option as they’ve been hyped up to be.

    Bottom Line: There’s a reason we call Larry Ellison over at Oracle “The Caveman”, and that’s because the centralization concepts he and his stepchildren at Google are pushing are nothing but extinct dinosaurs.

  23. This is a good example of why one should not count on the Internet. I’ve been hearing people rave about Google Docs and the other apps, like “convenient … exciting … wave of the future … ”

    Well, it’s anything but convenient to be locked out of your work, or just lose it due to aggresive human stupidity or online failure. Ditto your communications and storage.

    Reminds me … I’ve heard a number of people talking about Google Adsense getting out of paying people by mysteriously cancelling accounts. Others have been cut off when their account just disappears (i.e., Google refuses to recognize it).

  24. One time I saw a school’s Apple Xserve fail and lose every student’s email account.

    This proves that the method of storing your data on local hard disks is antiquated and doomed to fail.

  25. I’m still not clear if this is Google Apps or not. Chris says “paying customer”.

    My three comments on the original thread are enough to cover Google Apps users.

    Everything else is suspenders for the belt.

  26. No such service is ever going to be perfect. And it is true: we really don’t have any idea what the user might have done to cause/exacerbate the problem to begin with.

    But how many people do you think Google Apps has saved from disaster if they were trying to do the same services by themselves instead? You can host all your own email and docs and all that… and you will still have disasters like what this user ran into with Google Apps.

    I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that Goggle Apps uptime and backups beat 99% of those who are doing the stuff themselves. And I’d bet that their rate of issues is less than what homegrown net/system admins have themselves.

  27. I got a taste of this when my gmail account was inaccessible for 30+ hours over Xmas last year.

    Since then, I have enabled POP mail, and I regularly download all messages as a backup. I still use the gmail account, but now I also have a backup POP mail account at a commercial provider (pay account).

    That experience also put me off from using other Google apps.

    Nick’s experience is just another example of the pitfalls of relying too much on a single provider, and having no contingency plan.

    As with other aspects of technology and life, one should avoid creating a “single point of failure”.

  28. “Thank you for your report. We’ve completed our investigation. Because our investigation was inconclusive, we are unable to return your account at this time. At Google we take the privacy and security of our users very seriously. For this reason, we’re unable to reveal any further information about this account.”

    Wow. Somebody’s eventually going to escalate the issue with an AK-47 if Google doesn’t get their customer-facing organization working better than that. I can only imagine the instant rage that this poor guy must’ve experienced when he got that message.

  29. The same thing happened to my girlfriend a few months ago. She couldn’t log onto gmail, it would say something about her account being disabled or on hold or whatever. One day later it was back to normal.

  30. That’s why I’m no fan of Cloud Computing(tm).

    Cloud Computing is fine; think of it like electricity generation and distribution. We can have both big power plants and distributed generation in a heterogeneous mix. (Or, in the global oil industry, they often use the “big bathtub” metaphor.)

    Or, like web hosting now… run your own server from home, or colocate at a hosting facility. Many choices for many different kinds of people and tasks.

    But the principle behind cloud computing is to decouple the applications from the resources. Perhaps the Freenet data storage pool is an accessible example. Anyone can contribute to providing storage space into the pool, although perhaps some firms will seek profit in economy of scale from providing large swaths of space (ala the Google filesystem or Amazon S3). But at the same time, you don’t have to care where that storage space is or who is providing it when you store files on the Freenet storage pool. You don’t have to worry about migrating from one host service to another, and all of the administrative pain that entails. Instead, the underlying infrastructure is sophisticated enough to make that transparent to you.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could “suspend to disk” the entire contents of your booted laptop onto a network (i.e. “the cloud”), pass through border security with a completely pristine empty laptop, and then “resume” your previous contents (which have remained active and gathered new IMs and email during your trip) — ala Xen live migration? That’s what Cloud Computing is all about: what you’re doing will no longer be bound by where it’s done.

  31. I have most things on hard disc at work, hard disc at home, on USB and on at least site in ‘the cloud’. And regular backups to DVD and/or detachable SATA drives that I keep in a safe. Plus I forward my main Gmail inbox to another Gmail account, and POP3 it down to a PC.
    Short of several EMP attacks – that ought to do it.

  32. I don’t use GMail, and the photos I store at Flickr are duplicates (would be a mess if lost, but no drama). The one critical app of the net computing world is Google Calendar — and until now I haven’t found a really well working synch programme for that (there is a possiblity to sync with the calendar extension for Thunderbird, but this one is realllly slow; I do not want to use Outlook; and the app for synch between Symbian OS mobile phones and google calendar is still alpha).

  33. The one critical app of the net computing world is Google Calendar — and until now I haven’t found a really well working synch programme for that

    IIRC, Google is amidst supporting CalDAV, which includes Darwin Calendar Server and iCal.

  34. I usually have my man inscribe any important documents in vellum then sealed in clay and lead and buried in a secret location some where in the Cairngorm mountain range.

  35. I for one would love to move my beloved “decade long” calendar out of the proprietary Microsoft Outlook but I haven’t found any program (including Sunbird) which will let me do a perfect export not breaking repeating events etc. Google calendar wouldn’t.

  36. Y’r (ys, ‘m pntng my fngr t y trgd pstrs) n wflly lrmst bnch. Y rmnd m ths Chrstn prntng grps wh wrk thmslvs nt flrry vry tm thy hr n nmntnbl bdy prt snks nt mnstrm md.

    Cmprd t thm, y hv vn lss f pnt. t lst ths prntng grps hv rpttv ss bt whch thy cn cmpln. ll y hv s sngl nstnc f Ggl’s lckng smn t nd nt nswrng wth Wb 2.0 trnsprnt mrktng rprt.

    f ths wr wd-sprd ss whrn Ggl pprd t rndmly br ppl frm thr pp kngdm, ys, cmpln. Bt n cs? sngl cs? wld sggst y s ths crtcl thnkng blts tht llw y (nd m) t blv w’r s mch smrtr thn ths Chrstn prntng grps.

  37. The whole story kind of reminds me of a two friends of mine who fell out because they went out together drinking and in a club one went off to powder his nose asking the other to look after his car keys which he’d left on the table. The other then got chatting to someone and perhaps wasn’t paying that much attention to the car keys and well, you see where this is heading right?

    If you put that much value on anything don’t ask a third party to look after in your stead, because your priorities aren’t theirs.

  38. We have had the same problem with 2 people on our Google Enterprise accounts.

    All it took was a 3 minute phone call to the Google support line (which you get access to when you pay) and it was fixed a few minutes later.

    Not a big deal, just try talking to a human :)

  39. well just to join the alarmist bandwagon, i can’t help wondering how this ties in with Lawrence Lessig’s “i 9-11” concerns.

    when the hypothesized event occurs, and the feds clamp down, what’s going to happen to all these bandwidth-heavy centralized servers ?

    just askin’.

    i back up locally, and only use local apps.

  40. Around 2002 I started getting emails on my hotmail account from someone in Germany blaming someone I vaguely corresponded with in the UK for a bunch of things. After getting a dozen of these, I emailed the person back threatening to turn them into their ISP for harassing me. Two days later Hotmail cut off my account. When I repeatedly asked for an explanation, I got no response other than I “violated Hotmail’s terms of service” and “They traced the violation to my IP address.” The content of this violation was of course never made clear to me, nor would it have stood up to normal scrutiny. I am convinced that the nutball was responsible for getting me canned.

  41. Coincidentally, I just read this about 2 minutes ago: it’s another instance of the practice jhollington reported upthread.

  42. This is one of the reasons the university I work for doesn’t allow anthing related to University business to be handled with Google Aps.

  43. I’ve lost access to four gmail accounts. I refuse to ever try again.

    Google can really suck sometimes.

  44. gh… n nt-ggl pst?

    fnny hw bb’s wn srch ngn s pwrd by ggl. wht bnch f hypcrts…

    wht’s vn fnnr s tht bb fld t mntn th rcnt lnch f, whch nlk G, ds nt str rcrds f srs’ srch ctvty r P ddrsss.

    t’s gd strt, bt ‘ll lt y dmct yrslvs:

  45. the same thing happened to my dad.. he is not the most computer savvy person around so i took on the task of contacting google support.

    i must say i was disappointed. i submitted over 4 complaints/tickets. didnt even get one reply back.

  46. Ah #29 I’m with you.
    An early nerd, my first PC was 4K. Yup. The entire powerhouse of an antique CoCo. Extra storage if you used a cassette recorder. Not kidding.

    I love Win XP and the cloud and Google and the occasional scotch on the rocks. However, I still have one old PIII with a very functional Win 98 platform and a Western Digital 80GB external drive to back up everything, new and old.

    I think it’s good to consider what could/would happen when servers go down (for WHATEVER reason)and just how much we all rely on the web and broadband.

  47. Same thing happened to me. I couldn’t correctly answer enough of the questions they posed–so bye, bye account!

    I’ve recently become a BIG user of one of my Google accounts, too!


  48. @35, CharlieWade

    While it’s true that Google’s boxen have more uptime than mine, the key difference here is that when something goes wrong on my server, I have the ability to deal with it as I see fit. I control the box, the data, and the software governing how that data gets used. If I end up doing something stupid and deleting my email, I have only myself to blame.
    If I decide to trust Google with documents/email/other important aspects of my life, I’m completely giving up control over what is done with that data. Glaring privacy issues aside, my data probably won’t, but could, just up and disappear some day.

    I think of it like this: if a gun is going to be pointed at me, I’d rather be the one holding it. Even if someone else has a steadier trigger finger, I’d rather be in control, thank you very much.

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