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How I lost access to my Google account today

After I woke up this morning, I saw a weird login prompt on my phone asking me to log in.  I tried entering my password a couple of times but it didn’t work.  I then turned on my laptop and saw that I’ve been logged out of Gmail.  After I tried logging in, this is what I saw:

Account has been disabled

"Account has been disabled."  I’m sorry, what?!  Yes, indeed, Google has disabled my account for some reason.

I tried looking around the web for solutions, and found out that there are lots of other people who have faced this same problem.  In some cases, the situation had been resolved in a few days, but in some cases people’s accounts were never recovered.  I tried contacting somebody at Google support ("Surely they should have a support department, right?" Nope, wrong!), but the only thing I could find which did not require one to be logged in to Google was a simple form which took an alternate email address from me (which Google already had), and didn’t even tell me that I will be contacted about this.  That was it.

It was around that time which I started to stress out.  I don’t use a lot of the Google services (thankfully), but the two things which I relied on were Gmail and Google Docs.  I have been a Gmail user probably since 2004, and I have tens of thousands of work-related and personal emails stored in my account, some of which being extremely important to me.  I also used Google Docs to store a bunch of very important documents which I won’t be able to recover by other means.  Fortunately I don’t use other services such as Blogger, Picasa, Google Talk or Google+, so other parts of my online life such my ability to speak my mind freely on my blog, share photos with friends, talk to them or otherwise interact with them have not been affected by this.  There are also other relatively minor nuiances happenening as a result of this (I won’t be able to use the Market to install or update applications on my Android phone, and my application purchases are in an unknwon state at this point), but given the other problems I am dealing with right now, these seem pretty minor.

Now I understand that these Google services are free, but I’ve been paying for the Gmail+Docs shared storage, but apparently that does not help me to get customer support, have any rights over the data I have stored on the Google storage for which I am paying, or at least get notified on the reason why my account has been disabled.

Now time to get to the gist of what I want to say in this post.  We’ve all (yours truly included) heard about the importance of owning your digital data, the downsides of vendor lock-in, and how if you’re being provided a free service, you’re the product, not the customer.  But I honestly never understood how deep this problem is, and how severe the consequences can be ("surely this cannot happen to me", right?!).  But starting today, I look at this problem from an entirely new angle.  The issue of user sovereignty for our data was always close to my heart, but this time it’s personal.

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Moving to Toronto

As many of my fellow Mozillaians probably know already, I’ve moved to Toronto to work full-time for Mozilla Corporation.  It’s been a very exciting process so far.  Toronto seems like a great city, and it’s been very nice to meet some of the fellows which I’ve been known only online in person, and it’s even greater to get a chance to work with this group of very smart people on the project that I love.  This is the best deal that anyone can get: making a living by working on something that you love, in a great place with the great community which we know as the Mozilla Community.

I arrived on Thursday night, and these few first days have been very busy for me, trying to find a place of my own to live and trying to get to know the city and the new environment.  A large portion of these initial things have now been taken care of, and I’ll hopefullly be able to devote my full attention to my the work very soon now.

So, let me give you an overview on what I’ll be working on.  Most people in the Mozilla community know me for implementing the Private Browisng feature in Firefox 3.5.  I’ll continue working on that as the owner of the private browsing module, but my main focus is going to be on the layout team, specifically on adding bi-directional support to Mozilla’s SVG engine.  You can follow this work in bug 311545.  I also have worked on many different issues on the Mozilla codebase, so you’ll still be seeing me contribute to random bits and pieces here and there as well.  I will also continue my work in my smaller project, such as the Persian localization project, as well as RTL support for the Mozilla’s XUL engine as well as AMO.  I also hope to be able to devote some of my time to the Electrolysis project, which I guess is the Next Big Thing in Mozilla.

I’ll also try to blog more often from now on (this very post is 5-6 days overdue!).  I also plan to add some more information about me and my projects on this web site, something which I have wanted to do for a long time now.

Oh, and did I mention that you can now reach me at my new email address: ehsan at mozilla dot com?

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A glimpse of hope

Tehran saw something today which was unprecedented and astonishing in the past 30 years.  Mousavi had announced yesterday that he’s going to hold a rally today at 4:00PM in which people will start walking towards the Azadi (Freedom) square starting from the Enghelab (Revolution) square.  He had submitted an official request to the Interior Ministry requesting them to issue an official approval for the rally.  The Interior Ministry quite predictably denied this request, and in their official announcement stated that a number of outlaws had announced that they’re going to have an assembly today but any such assembly is illegal and the attendants will be prosecuted.

Mousavi, Khatami, Karroubi and Rahnavard announced that because they do not have any media which they can use to announce the public that the rally is canceled, they would personally go there to talk to the public.  This was a very smart political move in order for them to be able to attend the rally.  This was of course, quite compliant with the law, and in fact the Interior Ministry cannot prohibit any assembly, according to the article 27 of the Iranian Constitution:

Article 27 [Freedom of Assembly]
Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.

Today Iranians used this article of their constitution for the first time (as far as I know — all other assemblies used to be approved by the Interior Ministry beforehand, or canceled).  And it was the first public demonstration after the 1979 revolution which was not conducted by the government.

I also attended the rally, and it was astonishing.  The amount of people attending was unbelievable.  There were times that my feet literally didn’t touch the ground, and I was dragged by the population to any side without any control.  I am not good at estimating the number of people even inside a room, but I’d boldly say that the number of people attending was in the order of millions.  The best feature of the rally was perhaps that it was a silent demonstration, where no slogans were shouted, and nobody even clapped their hands.  We just silently walked and made the V sign with our hands (the V sign is an unofficial symbol of Mousavi).  Some people, afraid of being identified later, covered their faces with scarfs or masks, but some others, yours truly included, walked without any disguise.  The slogans were written on fliers or placards.  Some of them were: "Give me back my vote", "We demand re-election with international monitors", "Where is my vote?", "We condemn electoral fraud", "Our silence does not reflect our approval", "Hear the voice of our silence", etc.

I personally didn’t witness any riot police forces.  The only police officers I saw were traffic police, and people gladly helped them to route the inevitable heavy traffic surrounding the Azadi avenue.  I didn’t also witness any violence at all.  But according to the reports, some shots were fired, although I can’t personally confirm it or provide any details.

There were some nice side-stories.  The national TV was forced to air the event, calling us Mousavi supporters and not "outlaws"!  For those of you who know a thing or two about how things work here, this is a big achievement.  Also, hose who know Iranians know that it’s next to impossible to keep a handful of Iranians quiet near each other, so the silent demonstration today was really an achievement on the social level, and I think represented a deep unity and understanding between the attendants.  You could see people from all social classes, youngsters and the elderly, women with tight Islamic hijab, young people with "controversial" dressing; really it was like any social stereotype had a representative there, but I must admit that the majority of the people were young.

Another news is that tomorrow the Guardian Council is going to have a meeting with the candidates over the disputes.  I have honestly not had much time after I got back home (around 10:00PM) to read the news online, so I’m just quoting the quick news flashes that I read.  We also heard from many sources that similar rallies have occurred in many of the other cities of Iran, but I can’t personally confirm this news either.

This is not the end of our organized efforts to make our voices heard.  The next event is planned to happen tomorrow at 5:00PM from the Vali-e-asr square to the Jam-e-jam complex which is the headquarters of the national radio and TV.  I’m sure more will follow on the upcoming days unless our demands are heard and respected.  Until today, I was honestly very desperate that the protests could lead to anything, but now I feel a whole new thing.  That I’m a part of something much much bigger than anything I’ve ever took part in, we have a polished method of protesting which could even prevent mass violence which we have seen in the past couple of days here, and which could actually lead to some solid results.  The very least result of today’s rally was that we were officially heard, and it feels great to be a part of that.

Also, if you’re interested to know about what happened between my last post and this one, make sure to check out the great chronology that Behdad has prepared, which is available in both English and Persian.  Thank you, Behdad!  I was actually going to write about those events but because of the disruptions in the Internet service, I couldn’t do that.  I also meant to link to Behdad’s first post written about the same time that I wrote my previous one on Saturday but I forgot.  He is continuing to provide some great coverage on his blog, make sure to check it out.

Last but not least, thanks much to all of my friends (Mozillaian and non-Mozillaian) who either commented on the previous post or sent me kind emails.  I couldn’t reply to each of them individually because of the messy Internet service, but they were all encouraging and heart-warming.  I am honored, and my gratitude goes to all of you.  I’ll try to post more updates in the upcoming days.

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Dark days

Yesterday was the 10th Iranian Presidential Election.  The major candidates for presidency were Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, the current president of Iran.  Many of the Iranians were willing to try to make sure that Ahmadinejad would not get re-elected for another four years, and most of them started supporting Mousavi.  The competition became more intense after some of controversial debates on the national TV, and supporters of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad started to protest and demonstrate on the streets, vouching for their respective candidate.  Mousavi’s campaign chose the color green as their color sign.  More and more people started to take part in the demonstrations in support of Mousavi and opinion polls started to show that Mousavi has excelled in vote count by a considerable margin.  I didn’t hear of any violence in these demonstrations, and things were all looking good.  People started unofficial campaigns to encourage voting in order to maximize Mousavi’s votes.  I and many others were certain that Mousavi would win the election on Friday, but things didn’t work out as we hoped.

The first vote counts were announced today at about 12:20AM, with Ahmadinejad having about 69% of the votes.  That was surprising, but considering the fact that the votes from rural places are counted first, and he has a better reputation in those areas, the news wasn’t alarming.  The later results however started to get us worried.  In fact, I couldn’t get much sleep last night.  One important point was that as more votes were counted, the ratio between the votes for major candidates didn’t change much, and things were moving on in a linear fashion.  That simply cannot happen in a real society, because the people in cities and villages, and even in different cities do not think like each other.  After some time, we figured that we can actually predict the results by simply extrapolating the linear graphs given the number of votes counted at any given time!  Let me share the graph of the changes of the number of votes for three pairs of candidates.

 

Things went on and around 8:00AM when most people were waking up, the results were down to Ahmadinejad having 65% of the votes, and Mousavi having only 32%, with the other two candidates having less than 2% and 1%, respectively.  80% of the votes were counted until then, according to the Interior Ministry which runs the election here.  In the early morning, everyone was shocked to hear about the poll results.  We were calling up friends and family and asking "Can you believe this?!  What’s going on?".  After a while, anger and hatred replaced the shock, and people started to gather on the streets.  The police, who were running the "Authority Maneuver" on the city streets from yesterday had orders to split out any gathering (which was seemingly defined to include even two people standing besides each other on the street) confronted people, and starting nearly before noon, we heard that they have started to beat up people who refuse their orders of dispersal.  I didn’t believe it until I heard it from a friend who had eye-witnessed.

Communication have been limited to phone calls, since starting from late Thursday the text message service (which was Mousavi’s primary information media given their lack of newspapers and TV stations) was shut down throughout the whole country, many of the reformist websites were filtered starting from last night, and the national TV only broadcasts official government announcements.  The universities which are facing the exam season were also closed until Monday.

After noon, the people gatherings started to turn into riots.  People including mere pedestrians, women and elderlies were beaten up on the streets, and more and more people started to protest against the police forces, demanding their voice to be heard and election results be re-evaluated.  But all hopes were lost around 2:30PM when the government announced the official results stating a win of 63% for Ahmadinejad against 34% for Mousavi and Rezaee and Karroubi with 2% and 1%, respectively.

The protests entered a new level.  The police started to use tear gas, and people started to fire up trash cans in order to neutralize the effect of the tear gas.  According to the pictures and movies posted online, and also my friends eye-witnessing the events, people started to throw stones to the police and the police reciprocated in addition to beating the people with batons.  I saw pictures of a bus fired up by the people, and heard of many many people who were confronted with the police.  According to them, the police even started to break the car and house windows.

Ahmadinejad appeared on the national TV about an hour ago to assert his victory, but the TV here didn’t mention the riots and unrest even once.  According to them, a normal election was hold and the results were correctly counted and reported to the public.

Mousavi and other reformist candidates and campaigners have mostly gone silent starting from last night, and at best case have only issued statements assuring people that they will pursue the vote of the people, but no one is really hopeful.  I have also heard that the police has started to arrest members of the Mosharekat Party, which is a reformist party here.

The amount of information posted online is shocking, photos and videos are being posted on Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, but the government is starting to filter those sites as well.  You can see samples of the pictures and videos on those sites, among elsewhere.

I’m really worried about the current state of affairs.  I was too scared today to get out of the house, and too sad to get any real work done.  I’m not sure what happens tomorrow but I get the feeling that it won’t be pleasant.  I think we’re going to have dark days ahead of us, today being the first.

I decided to post this to Planet Mozilla as well in order to spread the word.  This is my first time posting a personal note on Planet Mozilla, and I hope that my fellow Mozillaians won’t mind.

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