When Google disowns you

When Google disowns you

Summary: The latest Google user horror story shows that SaaS providers are still learning the hard way that the on-demand business is governed by the human emotion of trust.


SaaS providers are still learning the hard way that If you trade in dependency, you have to earn trust: "[Clients of] on-demand application providers ... depend on them for everyday functions and operations, and therefore trust is paramount."

Yesterday, in When Google Owns You, Chris Brogan posted about a colleague who came back from lunch on Monday to find he was locked out of all his Google resources because the provider had disabled his account. With no clue how to resolve the problem and no opportunity to call a live person at Google for help, it took him a day and a half to regain access. This morning, the salutary tale is top story on Techmeme.

One point the story highlights is a hard lesson for users: Don't trust the cloud at this early stage in its evolution. Use the SMTP capability that Gmail provides to keep a local copy of your email inbox. If that's not possible, use a third-party Gmail backup service. Use your own domain and host the DNS somewhere else so that you can switch email providers without having to change your email address. Keep a back-up copy of important documents and other vital online assets. Finally, make sure you know what recourse you have when things go wrong — more on that below.

The trust issue for providers was eloquently summed up in a comment on Brogan's post by AboutNewMedia blogger Guinevere Orvis:

"A lot of companies are asking us to trust them with our data and there’s a frightening number of cases of them taking access to our data away without warning or recourse ... Where can I reliably publish my data so I can trust it will be there next time I need it?"

Of course there's another side to the story, which is that any process that allows locked-out users to regain control of their accounts will be relentlessly gamed by fraudsters and hackers trying to exploit the system for illicit reasons. So providers have to try and devise a process that's as painless as possible for genuine users while simultaneously bulletproof against identity-hacking exploits.

It's not an easy balance to strike, and getting the system right includes educating users about the risks. Google is clearly not getting it right, perhaps because it's not taking on-demand services like Gmail seriously enough. One thing it should be doing is giving more prominence to the risk of losing access to your accounts and what to do if it happens. Several commenters to Brogan's post mentioned that Google does have a process that caters for locked-out users. Jay Cuthrell wrote:

"To be very clear on this topic Chris — the 'paying customer' should have called the support number showing on this screen:


"Ideally, this is something that would be printed like his power bill, telephone bill, or any of a variety of utility bills.

"There he would find these numbers:

"* System critical issue support line (Local): 1-800-598-3901

"* System critical issue support line (Global): 1-650-253-7875

"To contact support, you will need the following:



"Of course, the X’s would be his specific information."

There's also a form that can be used by free account users but it requires quite a few data points that users will be better off assembling before they need it.

Another option that Google might consider is a premium service that allows desperate users to pay for human support when they find themselves in this situation. It may go against the grain of Google's everything-by-machine ethos, but service providers have to be creative about going the extra mile to give great customer service. Automation is all very well but at the end of the day, the on-demand business is governed by the human emotion of trust.

Topics: Cloud, Browser, Collaboration, Google

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Best news I've heard all week.

    I hope many read this information and realize what risk they are putting the corporate in.

    Your data is not safe on someone else's network.

    Professionals are being warned by their societies of potential malpractice if client data is compromised.

    Google's networks are so big that security can not be maintained as with smaller internal networks.

    Go ahead people, throw your data to the wolves. It's only your livelihood at stake.
    • RE: Best news I have heard all week.

      [b]You have nailed it.[/b]

      We had this discussion recently - about the cloud.

      I made my position very clear; if management decides to move to the cloud, [b]that will be my last day.[/b]

      DO NOT expect me to accept responsibility for things I can not control. Moving our data out from our control exposes us to [b]too many risks.[/b]

      Move to the cloud; fine! That's your decision. But don't call me the day the cloud disappears and it looks like "brown rain" all over the place.
  • Cloud is a bubble.. might not be in the future but it is now..

    ...and all the people that have fallen for it, and gave it their business critical data to test itself on it are, and I won't shy from being blunt, NAIVE.

    If you want to go cheap, Linux, Evolution and OpenOffice are certainly giving more for the same buck (zero) and are firmly in your house. Web hosting plans with decent e-mail service and keeping it all on your disk via POP are what works today, if you don't have in-house arms to handle a local IMAP server in house.

    PHP groupware tools are easy to install on your XP machine through XAMPP and hMailServer is a easy free-as-in-beer alternative to FOSS servers that are tough and difficult.

    Most other bubble 2.0 tools are stripped down webware versions of what was allready freely available before, the only difference is that it's tad more difficult to set them up than it is to sign in on a web forum (whereas bubble 2.0 tools are exactly as difficult as that).

    If very little effort is more than you're willing to put in something that's critical for business, then you get what you deserve when the bubble bursts.

    But I may just be oldfashioned...
  • This is a real danger in general with the "Cloud"

    PaaS, SaaS,Cloud, or call it what you want, this is only one of the major problems that can creep up when you pass your data and applications on to a third party service provider. You put your business in their hands are realistically they don't care about you. They are in business to make money for themselves, you the customer making money using their services is secondary to them. You are simply one small account among millions.
    Instead of managing your IT structure you have to manage your service hosting partner. The costs to your business may end up the same or in the case you have to take legal action against your service host, it could cost more.

    I am sorry, if I have to make back up copies and set up alternatives in case my service host decides to shut my account down, I might as well just set up a webserver with a MySQL database and run it myself cutting the service host out all together.
    If Microsoft ever forces me to run Office from a website, I don't know what I will do, but I am sure I will be either writing my own office suite or finding someone who can write me one so I can run it on a computer with out an internet connection.
    Trusting third party data and application host is not a good idea until:
    Data ownership is clear and can't be broken.
    Client to Cloud/Cloud to Client encryption is implemented.
    Storage Encryption is implemented.
    Long Term Data Usability is address.

    Those are the basic questions for me to even think about moving to the "Cloud".
  • NameSecure locked me out after I paid...

    ...to renew my DNS hosting. Everything else is on Network Solutions (long story as to why this is).

    Anyhow, a couple of years ago I neglected to renew on time and it expired. I immediately went to the site and put in my credit card number. My account page said my account was active but in fact it remained inactive. There is no phone number on the NameSecure site, so I emailed to no avail.

    My husband is a geek--I'm a suit--and he cleverly used Whois (as in: Whois: NameSecure.com) to find a phone number which rang at the security desk at the NameSecure offices. The security guard gave him an office number and he manaed to get to a human being who straightened out the problem.

    My husband disdains Network Solutions cause it costs more, but I think the fact that you can call someone makes it worth more.

    He points out that reaching a human being does not necessarily equal help.

    I say: it at least equals the possibility of help.

    Meantime, three years later, no one at NameSecure ever answered my email.

    Minda Zetlin
    The Geek Gap
  • Couldn't believe the MSN article last night

    When I saw a glowing and blindly positive article yesterday on MSN about cloud computing, I wanted to puke. As an IT professional, I can't believe that some people don't see imminent danger with cloud computing. Yep, it's trendy. Big deal - so was disco.
    • RE: Couldn't believe the MSN article last night

      Quote:[i]As an IT professional, I can't believe that some people don't see imminent danger with cloud computing. Yep, it's trendy. [b]Big deal - so was disco.[/b][/i]


      [b]And I hope the moldy corpse of disco NEVER sees the light of day again!!!!![/b]
  • And which is more common?

    A Google SaaS customer gets disconnected from his data. A day and a half later, he gets the data back.

    Lets compare this to MS Office and a local hard drive. Office eats the doc, or corrupts it, Vista loses the doc, my hard drive dies.

    SaaS isn't perfect, but it seems better than what we have now. The PC isn't dying, but I think centralized computing delivered the web, "Cloud Computing" is definitely the future. The PC model has been around for over 25 years. There hasn't really been that much innovation when you think about it. The Internet/web model has delivered more capability, faster than the PC model has delivered. A lot of this is due to the Windows monopoly, but asking users to continually drop $1,000 plus for "new" systems that are really just faster hardware slowed down by bloated software has had it's chance to succeed, we need to try something else.
    • That is not that large a problem

      How often does that happen? Is a backup drive you pay for once really more expensive?

      I trust my network above that of Google's, The point here is how much are you willing to lose to someone else's problem?

      In this instance it was only 24 hours, what happens next time if it is 48 or more?
    • hardware slowed down by bloated software

      In my little piece of the domain here, I am running 500 and 350 MHz machines. Everyone including the boss know I will not use a version of windows until EOL has passsed. I am also one of the people here who use Linux and Mac in an all Windows shop. Only one machine of mine runs windows with office. The reason? To allow me to see how the networking works when I pull out my Mozilla and Sourceforge apps. Having been told by IBM 18 years ago to go with A Macintosh, I have never looked at a PC or considered only a MicroSoft solution. AND I'm the only by one in the corporation who hasn't been bitten infection.
  • RE: When Google disowns you - Use Eudora

    I refuse to allow outsiders control over my email. I use Eudora/Penelope which maintains my email on my disk. I have complete control over it. True, it is not as felxible as gmail, but I will NEVER be locked out.
  • Never put your business on someone-else's network

    All sorts of things can go wrong.

    A rogue customer can shut you down with one unsubstantiated negative comment.

    The network can lose your data.

    The network can lose its resources because it didn't even own its own storage.

    Your data can be pilferred by attacks.

    The network's customer service is NOT.
    Remember "Vaporware" ?

    A competitor is also a partner of the network and you are history!

    The "Cloud" is NOT.
    • Well Said!

  • RE: When Google disowns you

    Google suspended my GMail access for about twelve hours earlier this year, for reasons they never divulged. I was locked out, told that if I hadn't violated their terms of service, I would eventually be let back in. Fortunately, I use GMail only for reading e-mail automatically forwarded on from my real e-mail address, the one where I know the system administrator's work and home phone numbers. I like GMail, but you get what you pay for, and if it's important to you to have access to your e-mail, you should make sure that it goes to a server staffed by accessible human beings.
    • And the way you use it is why...

      ...they probably locked you out. Using it to collect auto-forwarded mail from another account is probably bending the terms of the AUP.

      Also, be careful if you have multiple GMAIL accounts. I believe it is a violation of the AUP, as well. Simultaneous hits to multiple accounts from a single IP may flag your account(s).
      • Correction

        I should have stated - using it to (solely) collect auto-forwarded email...

        I know they provide that functionality, but they probably don't want you using their servers as a personal backup system.
  • Message has been deleted.

  • All Clouds are Not Created Equal

    Part of deciding to use a cloud is picking an appropriate one. Google is NOT intended for enterprise use and doesn't have the support infrastructure for it. There are plenty of bullet-proof clouds from well-vetted enterprise vendors. Pick a SaaS provider who uses one and you won't have to worry, but you still have to consider how you're backing up your data. Welcome to the real world.
  • RE: When Google disowns you

    Just a couple points re users taking steps to have their google data when the cloud goes down.

    You mentioned the smtp option. POP would also work for email - not quite in real time, but your "backup" can be relatively current. I download to MS Outlook once a month and treat it like an emergency backup.

    Google Docs recently added offline access capabilities for your word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents. Users should turn this feature on, and on a number of computers if possible. If the cloud is gone, this can also serves as a backup.

    David Lazar
    Cog In The Machine
  • RE: When Google disowns you

    The only way for your data to be safe and confidential is for you to host it yourself. In the even that you're unable to do that, would you please ask around if anyone know anything about Business Continuity Planning.

    Hosting your critical data on a network you don't have any control over is bad enough as is. Not having a backup is unforgivable.