Friday, December 03, 2010

GraceWatch temporarily suspended by Google

So, nothing funny to report here today. Our Google account was temporarily disabled for a while today. When I logged on this evening and tried signing in to my e-mail account (on Gmail, a Google service linked to my Google account), I got a message saying our account had been suspended due to suspicious activity. It asked me to verify the account by entering in my mobile phone number so they could text message me with a verification code. At first, I balked at this, thinking that our simple mobile phone doesn't do text messages. But the only other option was a link leading me to this page. Among other things, it says:
If you've been redirected to this page from the sign in page, it means that access to your Google Account has been disabled.
In most cases, accounts are disabled because of a perceived violation of either the Google Terms of Service or product-specific Terms of Service.
Google reserves the right to:
  • Suspend a Google Account from using a particular product or the entire Google Accounts system if the Terms of Service or product-specific policies are violated.
  • Terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.


 The only option from this page was to contact Google via some form; they said they might get back to you if they had new information to communicate.

Yikes.

Fortunately, our mobile phone does do text messages, as I found out when I went back to that page and requested the verification code. Obviously the account was restored.

When I logged into our Gmail account, it was obvious that someone had been sending out spam and using our e-mail address as a "cloak." That is to say, when they sent the e-mail out from their computer, they disguised the originating information to say that the spam originated with us. There were about 100 bounced e-mails in our inbox.

It's fine that Google has a form for contacting them, but I know from traweling the webmaster forums that Google customer service ranks somewhere below the ninth circle of hell, which is to say that if you ever receive individual attention from a person -- especially if you're dealing with a disabled account -- it should count as a miracle.

What do we have associated with our Google account? hmm.... Our e-mail address, our family blog which is essentially the only copy of our family journal, all the e-mails in our e-mail account, an online photo collection, and our Google Adsense account, which is a very substantial portion of our household income (about 15 percent). It's a little disturbing that Google can turn off such a huge part of our life with the flick of a switch just because some criminal took advantage of us.

This isn't just an issue with Google, though. Increasingly, we're being encouraged to move our digital lives to the "cloud" -- the cast network of computer servers that make up the Internet. Really prolific Facebook users are in a similar position.

What to do to guard against this? I have no idea. Right now, I have a crying baby to attend to.