So this is what happened to me on Friday. I’m out doing the usual things, heading to school, dropping off the kids, etc, and while waiting to pick someone up at a local filling station, I notice the little warning triangle in the notification bar of the phone: Some attention required to my google account.
So I tap it, and it goes through the usual stuff: You have been logged out, log back in, do the whole 2FA dance, and then it hits me with this message: Account is blocked for spamming. Would you like to appeal?
Well, of course I appealed, but that takes at least two days. Working days I assume.
I certainly wasn’t using my email account for any such activities. There were no notifications of logins or attempted logins. The only hole I punched for smtp access, is so my printer/scanner combo can email pdfs to me and my wife. So I have zero idea of why this happened.
I’ve had this account for about 17 years now. There is a LOT in there. Almost surprisingly, the damage isn’t too bad. None of the really important stuff (money) was impacted by this at all.
Some things I could get back easily. The majority of accounts I have all over the place, were not much of a hassle. The accounts that had a backup method (phone number, second email address) took only seconds to recover. I had to send supporting documentation to LinkedIn to get that one back, but it took literally only minutes.
The things I could not get back (so far), are:
- I have my kids’ google accounts linked to mine. That’s gone now.
- I lost a very large part of my phone’s address book, which was stored on my google account.
- I had to email countless people (mostly people I owe money) to resend bills to the new address.
- I had to email both my kids’ schools to update those records.
- I lost apps that I had bought on Google Play. Thankfully… not very much. Basically I lost Minecraft. The kids rarely play it these days. Had it been two days later (I bought two expensive apps for car diagnostics), the damage would have been significantly worse.
- I lost access to the account that I use for virtual hosting. I’m in the middle of some paperwork to get it back. I will probably succeed in this one.
- I lost all of my YouTube subscriptions, quite possible video material I uploaded as well (if not yet, then soon).
- There were some letters my father had sent me over the years, that I was holding on to. I can opt to download all the data (it’s multiple gigabytes), which I will probably do if the appeal fails.
The reason for writing this up, please (for the love of all that is holy), don’t use a free Gmail account as your main account. Make sure you back things up with a phone number or a second email account. Ideally, use a different email account which you register as a “business account” on google (and then simply don’t do the mail migration part). Keep email entirely separate from your other google activities.
Google didn’t care that this account is 17 years old and had years of email in it. They didn’t care that I had been a good citizen for that entire time. They didn’t give me a chance to rectify whatever might have gone wrong, if anything. They could have blocked the sending of email (that was the complaint, right?) instead of blocking the entire account, but they did not. It was a very heavy-handed response that did more to help whatever attack there might have been on my account than to help me (who is supposed to be the customer, right?) to repair it.
It didn’t even stop me from using their services. I simply went right ahead and registered a new account, I really had no choice. Some apps won’t work without one. All they did was cause me a lot of lost time, lost data, and even some lost money.
In my book, Google is now more evil than Microsoft.