A Plea for Help From Someone Being Casually Crushed Under Google's Heel


#1

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.

Background:

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.

Run away.

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.

Update

I have letters ready to go to my Rep., Senators and State AG, and a request to consider my issue sent to the EFF.


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#2

Contact the EFF. They’re on your side. Also contact your state’s ag. They typically take complaints about businesses swindling you.

If you can, try to get a lawyer involved. Lawyers are the only people big corps respect, in my experience.


#3

Call constituent staff from your Senator’s and U.S. House Rep’s office and ask for help. Condense problem to one sentence to summarize the harm suffered and what you want Google to do to fix it.

There may also be one or more regulatory agencies at the national level (e.g. within DOJ consumer protection) with a process for helping.


#4

Haven’t kept up my donations to them…not sure they like me anymore…

God help me…I live in Arizona…


#5

On the photo deletion front, you might be able to use Google Drive’s desktop app. Once it’s installed you should be able to just highlight the photos in the google drive folder, copy and paste them to a local folder, then delete the ones on the drive. It’d work just like deleting a wad of files in windows.


#6

I’ve tried deleting them through Drive, which allows you to delete more at a time than Photos, but still not enough to make it doable. Don’t have the App, I guess I could try that next, but not sure how much that will let you do at a time.

We’re talking ~50GB or so.


#7

AFAIK, once you’ve “synced up” the Google Drive desktop app, the entire filesystem on Gdrive should just be there, and you should be able to delete/move however many files in a big bunch.


#8

Wow.

I’m with @hello_friends. Contact your representative for help with the FTC. That is the crap that they are supposed to help their constituents with and all it takes is one forwarded email to the correct supervisor and BAM, the gears should begin to turn. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the same political party (or Arizona) because the Rep. is marketing himself by helping you. (I once contacted a Republican state senator and his staff was very helpful, so I ended up voting for him while I was in his district. He was going to win anyway since his district was in O.C.)


#9

I think they’d help you anyway… this kind of stuff is right up their alley.


#10

I’ll see. It’s sort of tangentially anti-trust, but it certainly brings out the dangers inherent in having our communications and communication mechanisms effectively under the control of corporations.

For what it’s worth, I maintain my own file server for my pictures and music…it’s a lot of trouble and effort, but I have just enough know-how to get it to work (poorly). In our move something went wrong in with the fileserver, and I had no access to my pictures or music for a week…fortunately it wound up just being a power supply, and the disks (which are under RAID 5, but you can always have 2 disks fail at a time) were fine.

I guess my point is it’s certainly possible to not use a major corporation’s cloud services for your digital life, but I’m not sure it’s reasonable.


#11

I also agree about talking to your congresscritter/senator, especially to get help from the FTC. They actually live for this kind of stuff - helping their constituent deal with government bureaucracy - because it makes them look good. They really won’t care if you actively voted/support them, they still will be glad to help you out. You pay for their salary and they work for you. Despite their national BS, they all know this and will work for you on stuff like this.

The only other thing I can say is find a lawyer, if the EFF won’t/can’t help.

This is all crap, BTW and I hope you can get this worked out. Good luck and keep us posted. Sorry I can’t be of more help!


#12

It’s at least worth minimizing it. Even a monthly back-up to a nice big flash or external HD means you only ever lose the latest month of your life when a cloud services corporation decides to shaft you.

But that doesn’t help you in your present predicament. I agree you’ll probably have to involve a lawyer to get Google to do anything, unless your story goes viral and you can generate enough bad PR for them to make a move.

ETA: Also, can’t hurt to reach out to the EFF. I make a very modest but regular annual donation to them and, as far as I’m concerned, yours is the type of front-line case they should be tackling.


#13

If the google drive desktop app doesn’t work for you, you could try odrive


#14

An update: I have recovered her email, if temporarily. I downloaded all of her photographs using takeout, then chose to convert the photographs in her account to “High Quality” (e.g. low quality), which Google doesn’t charge storage for. That dropped her overall storage total low enough to send and receive email.

It doesn’t resolve our problem with Wallet, or the fact that she can’t really use Google Photos anymore, but at least we’re getting things like, oh, emails about our deposit from our previous landlord.


#15

The only time I ever triumphed in an argument with Google was when I threatened to turn them in for pedo-crime. Up until that point they simply ignored me. So I don’t know what you do if the Google peeper-car hasn’t trespassed on your property and taken pictures of your children’s bedrooms through your windows… posting on bb, facebook and G+ is almost certainly a good opening move , though.


#16

Got a callback from one Senator’s office although largely just to punt to the FCC and the AG’s office. They offered to forward the issue to the FTC, though, which I expect will carry more weight than my online form submission.


#17

You’d be surprise about that punt. I forgot to mention the time I went to get a replacement SS card because it got stolen about a year before on campus and I needed proof of it for my state diability (broken leg).

I went to the SS office and the f—ing bureaucrat lectured me about losing it. I pointed out that my SS# was everywhere: jobs, utilities, etc. (also stolen was my student I.D., which was my social security number, this was 1994). Anyway, I called my representative and complained about her attitude.

Didn’t think anything more until 12 months later, when I had to go with a Polish immigrant couple to that same office to apply for their green card. Same woman, oh shit. Never did I think she’d remember one person in a thousand plus prople, but she looked right at me and said, “Oh, I remember you.” Suddenly, that couple got much more help than they had been getting from her. :relieved:


#18

That’s good news! I don’t think that’s punting. It’s probably normal, and you’re right that the referral is a good way to open the case with the FTC. Consider logging who you talk to each time, an extension number or email, the date and a complete sentence or two about the content of the call (e.g. what specific relief you requested, what you were instructed to do, etc.). It can save time later.


#19

Update: AG replied to my letter saying that they have contacted “the company or individual in question” to request a response. A form letter, but in theory I should be getting a copy of any response, so that should be interesting.


#20

Does it reference a case number or some other unique identifier in the subject line or elsewhere? Other than the date and your name, I mean.