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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44 comments on “How I lost access to my Google account today
  1. Visitor says:

    Yay cloud. Why do you think they call it the cloud? One day a cloud is there, the next it is nowhere to be found. Oh, and hope you get your data back.

  2. Visitor says:

    Do you have any idea why they decided to disable your account?

  3. Visitor says:

    Thanks for sharing this! You are right, until it gets personal, it seemed like a non issue.

  4. The price of free is somewhat more expensive than first budgeted for.

  5. Fisa says:

    People, stop talking about cloud/big-corp vs owning your data as exclusive options, you can have both!
    Use gmail, but keep a backup with any imap client.
    Use google docs, and make regular full backups (google docs allows you to download a zip file with all your files).
    Use blogger, but keep a local copy of your posts.
    Use picasa, but don’t delete your local photos, for chuthlu’s sake.

  6. Fred says:

    I don’t understand why it would be so difficult to give users read-only access to Google services after they are banned. This would enable users to retrieve their email, data, etc after they have been (in many cases falsely) accused of things like this. Email especially is just too important to be completely locked out of with no recourse.

  7. Pete says:

    I have closed my Google Account. Don’t want that my data is in the hands of such a … company.

  8. jang says:

    “Yes, indeed, Google has disabled my account for some reason”

    Your right, maybe the reason is ” 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”

    So your saying that you saw a strange form that was asking you to enter your google credentials, so what you did was enter them several times in a row. You didn’t care if this form was really from google and bother spamming a form. Is this the first time your on the web?

  9. Visitor says:

    It’s safer to configure GMail to accept POP and download your message with Thunderbird. You’ll always have a local copy that you can access and backup, no matter what.

  10. Visitor says:

    I don’t understand why people use email service like ggmail or others… today hosting plans are so cheap that if you really care about your data you can buy one for less than 5-6 Euro/month.

  11. VisitorSatya Narayan Vyas says:

    Thanks for sharing this!

  12. nico says:

    Because gmail is great!

    I also have several dedicated servers, but all e-mail accounts are just aliases that redirect the mails to gmail accounts. The hudge advantage is that i just takes several minutes to create the alias and the open a gmail account. Without gmail i would have to setup a mail server, install spam assasin and an antivirus tool. Gmail protects my mails from spam and viruses and does this incredibly well.

  13. ZuDfunck says:

    The cloud is a seductive beast. Everything is cool till someone gets hurt. I hope to someday bring down the evil doers of the internet. But until then, I just try to be careful.

  14. Visitor says:

    Thanks for answer, but I still don’t understand.
    I have an hosting account (70 Euro/Year), my domain (9 Euro/Year), some email aliases that point to my email account, spam assasin and no virus (all setup by default).
    I can offer email account to friends, with no limits and total control of back-ups.
    In 15 minutes everybody can setup their own domain+webspace+emails at less than 100 Euro/Year.
    If you are a hobbist or a professionist… is a little amount of money.
    I propose Gmail only to people at first steps with internet, just as a test before spend money.

    Sorry for really bad english 🙂

  15. Visitor says:

    Uh, back up to a local drive? For MSN, I use a hotmail connector that stores a local copy of my email folders to my hard drive accessed by Outlook. Facebook has a tool to back up your account to your local disk.

  16. Not strictly related to the disabling of the account, but is there any chance you can get access to your data via Google Takeout?

    It may not work (no idea how it functions with disabled accounts) but wanted to ask both in case it helps you out and to find out for myself if it’s an option if the same situation were to happen to me. 🙂

  17. f4bs says:

    Hi there…

    I am very sorry for this problem happening to you but I want to understand why didn’t you created a temporary second account to be abble to access the help foruns?

  18. Ehsan Akhgari says:

    Well, my account is now enabled again, so unfortunately I did not get a chance to test whether I would have had access to that service while my account was disabled.  But if I had to guess, I would guess that it wouldn’t be possible.

  19. Ehsan Akhgari says:

    No particular reason, I was just so upset that it did not occur to me.  🙂

  20. Visitor says:

    Don’t be evil, Google.

  21. Sean says:

    I had the same thing happen a few months back only worse- I was using Google Voice -> Skype on my iPod for phone and had no cell service at the time. When I got locked out of my google acct it also took down my ability to make or receive calls. Pretty scary stuff. Made me realize how incredibly dependent I’ve become on their services and just how much control G holds over me right now. Sounds like you’ve had a similar realization.

  22. Ehsan Akhgari says:

    That login form was indeed from the Android software shipped on the phone by Google.  When my account was re-enabled again, I used the same form, and I managed to log in successfully.

  23. Ehsan Akhgari says:

    Nope, they just sent an automated "appologies" email today, and that was it!

  24. tom jones says:

    nice that you are deleting comments that point out how unfounded your reasoning is. it doesn’t matter where your data is (and who owns it) if you don’t have a backup..

    and again, nice juxtaposition with your message (about owning your data) and you deleting other people’s comments.. is that called irony?

  25. John nash says:

    Wait until you have to deal with the bastards for closing your Adsense account without any given reason.

    God, please make a google alternative, Google does no evil, so they say, but hear the people. Everyone hates them. they are the new MS.

  26. […] Akhgari writes about what it feels like have your Google account taken away from you for no (knowable) reason by an uncaring corporate machine that keeps all your data […]

  27. Visitor says:

    Can you update us (on the blog post so everyone can see it) how did you get it back? Or if it was enabled all of a sudden. And if you found out WHY was it blocked. Thanks.

  28. Ehsan Akhgari says:

    I just checked again, and the account was enabled.  And so far I don’t know why my account was being blocked.

  29. LaDonna Peterson says:

    how do I get my e-mail back or do I have to chande accounts

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