UPDATE: 24 May 2023: A Proposal for “Enhanced Recovery Services” for Locked Out Google Accounts
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All, I am doing something in this post that I’ve never done before over these many years. I’m going to share with you an example of what Google account recovery failure means to the people involved, and this is by no means the worst such case I’ve seen — not even close, unfortunately.
I mentioned yesterday in my other venues how (for many years) I’ve routinely tried to informally help people with Google account recovery issues, because the process can be so difficult for many persons to navigate, and frequently fails. The announcement yesterday of Google’s inactive account deletion policy that I blogged about then:
triggered an onslaught of concerns that for a time made my blog inaccessible and even delayed inbound and outbound email processing.
I’m going to include below most of the text from messages I received today from one of my readers about a specific Google account recovery failure — and how that’s affecting a nearly 90-year-old woman. I’ll be anonymizing the message texts, and I’ve of course received permission from the sender to show you this.
Unfortunately, this example is all too familiar for me. It is very much typical of the Google account recovery problems that Google users, so dependent on Google in their daily lives, bring to my attention in the hope that I might be able to help.
I’ve been discussing these issues with Google for many years. I’ve suggested “ombudspeople”, account escalation and appeal procedures that ordinary people could understand, and many other concepts. They’ve all basically hit the brick wall of Google suggesting that at their scale, nothing can be done about such “edge” cases. I disagree. In today’s regulatory and political environment, these edge cases matter more than ever. And I will continue to do what I can, as ineffective as these efforts often turn out to be. -L
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Hi Lauren, I tried to help a lovely neighbor (the quintessential “little old lady”) recently with her attempt to recover her legacy gmail account. We ultimately gave up and she created a second, new account instead. She had been using the original account forever (15+ years) and it was created so long ago that she didn’t need to provide any “recovery” contacts at that time (or she may have used a landline phone number that’s long been cancelled now). For at least the last decade, she was just using the stored password to login and check her email. When her ancient iPad finally died, she tried to add the gmail account to her new replacement iPad. However, she couldn’t remember the password in order to login. Because the old device had changed and she couldn’t remember the password and there was no back channel recovery method for her account, there was no way to login. I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to contact a human being at google tech support, but it’s pretty much impossible. They also don’t seem to have an exception mechanism for cases like this. So she had to abandon hopes of viewing the google photos of her (now deceased) beloved pet, her contacts, her email subscriptions, reminders, calendar entries, etc.
I understand the desire to keep accounts secure and the need to reduce customer support expenses for a free service with millions of users. But it’s also frustrating for end users when there’s no way to appeal/review/reconsider the automated lockout. She’s nearly 90 years old, so I find it remarkable that she’s able to use the iPad. But it’s difficult to know what to say to someone like this when she asks “what can we do now” and there are no options…
I recognize that there are many different kinds of google users. Some folks (like journalists, dissidents, whistleblowers, political candidates, human rights workers, etc.) need maximum security for their communications (and their contacts). In these cases, it makes sense to employ multifactor authentication, end-to-end encryption, one time passwords, and other exceptional privacy and security features. However, there are a great many average users who find these additional steps difficult, frustrating and (esp. in the case of elderly people who aren’t necessarily very technology savvy), sometimes bewildering. It’s tough to explain that your treasured photos can’t be retrieved because you’re not the sort of user that google had in mind. Not everyone is a millennial digital native who finds this all obvious.
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