My partner has just been completely screwed by Google, and we seem to have no recourse. We’ve been trying to work with them for months now, and they refuse to do anything, or recognize they they have any kind of problem. At a pretty critical juncture in our lives (just bought a home, child on the way), Google has effectively taken away the Gmail account she has used for over a decade. If anyone has advice or can help, or knows someone who might be able to help, I am in desperate need. If you do not, I encourage you to read this as a cautionary tale.
My partner and I have used Google apps (Gmail, Photos, Drive, etc.) for essentially as long as they have been available. We have so much data stored in their services that we both pay for extra storage, an arrangement which we have always found worthwhile. My partner has used her email account for communicating with friends and family, but also previously for her small business and for her current school, work, and dealing with financial services and the government. She uses Drive to collaborate with other researchers, and of course a great deal of her memories are stored as photographs in Google Photos.
It turns out that in order to pay for storage through Google, you are actually signing up for an account with Google’s payment application, Wallet. Wallet was probably supposed to compete with Paypal and similar services, but apart from people forced to use it to buy services and media from Google it was unpopular, and Google is now largely abandoning it. However, it remains necessary to pay for additional storage for Google Apps.
A few months ago, my partner’s email started showing a warning that she was out of space, and if she didn’t correct it within a certain amount of time, her Gmail account would essentially be frozen. It turns out that her “Wallet” account had been locked, which meant she could not continue paying for storage. We have been nebulously informed that “unusual” activity occurred on the account, but Google refuses to give us any actual details. Nor will they give us any way to unlock the account.
Nor can we pay for her storage through any other means, Google will not allow it.
Let me try to explain how insane and Kafkaesque this is with an analogy.
Imagine that you have (as we just have) bought a house, using a home loan. The lender informs you that you must pay your mortgage to a specific agent. For years you dutifully go to the lender’s office, find the agent, and pay your mortgage, all the while investing in improving the home and centering your life around it. One day you show up at the office and you are told that your agent no longer works there. “Who do we pay now?” you ask. “Your loan agreement states that you must pay this specific agent.” “But that agent is no longer available.” “That is correct.” “But I need to pay my mortgage.” “You cannot, also, since you have not paid your mortgage we are going to foreclose and evict you.”
I believe, first and foremost, that this is a side effect of abusive monopolistic behavior: my partner’s information and years of work are basically being held hostage in order to force her to use a product she does not want or need, and when that product turns out to be broken, Google has no competitive reason to fix it. We’re stuck, they know it.
What we’ve tried:
For more background on the steps we have tried to take: we have spent hours if not days trying to communicate with Google, including long and fruitless phone conversations. It should be a key sign of how critical an email address can be that the Google employees we have spoken with repeatedly attempt to deflect us by offering to email information to my partner; they seem unable to grasp that someone would not be able to receive email, even though that is the exact problem that we are trying to get them to resolve.
The credit card that we had attached to the Wallet account is perfectly fine, we monitor it constantly and the issuing bank has never alerted us to any questionable activity: and even if that were a problem, Google refuses to let us attach the Wallet account to a different credit card.
In desperation we have looked at deleting all of her photographs in the hopes that this would temporarily give us enough space to use her email again, but this is close to a decade worth of material, and Google provides no method to delete photographs except essentially photograph by photograph, a task that would take weeks if not months of full-time labor.
I have also attempted filing a complaint with the FTC, but the complaint was clearly never read by a human and instead I was sent a document on how to choose a cable company.
In the meantime we have no idea what critical messages she is not receiving from, say, her bank, her doctor (or midwife, we are expecting our first child in August), the county (we moved to our new house two weeks ago), much less businesses, friends and family. I am at wits end and have no place to turn and no idea what to do next: and managing credit card processing web applications is part of my job! I can’t imagine the hell I would get if I let something like this happen to a customer. But we need our customers. It is terrifying to think that one company has so much power over us, and that we have no recourse at all with them.
This is clearly something that Google could trivially fix, but they simply have no will to do so. Perhaps they don’t think that it is cost effective. Perhaps they don’t want to raise the lid any further on a broken payment application security system. All of the customer support staff we have dealt with seem to be trying to delay and waste our time, perhaps hoping to just make us go away.
I used to know a few people who worked for Google, but none of them very well anymore, and I doubt any of them would be able to do anything anyway. Beyond that, I can’t think of anywhere to turn.
If you have bought heavily into the Google Apps ecosystem, as we have done, I strongly, strongly encourage you to get out or make sure that you can get out easily. Start backing up data now, and start looking at ways to ensure that communication will continue to be routed to you even if Google decides to lock you out.
I have letters ready to go to my Rep., Senators and State AG, and a request to consider my issue sent to the EFF.