Google has reversed its decision to disable the accounts of customers who resold the company’s new Pixel phone, after a chorus of complaints over the company’s imposition of a “digital death penalty” for a minor infraction.
The company emailed users who had been banned, noting that it had reviewed their appeals and re-enabled their accounts. Users had been shut down after they were accused of taking advantage of tax loopholes to earn a profit reselling the phone.
In the email, Google said it “takes violations of our terms very seriously, and we ask that you review relevant terms and product policies to ensure that you understand them”. It added: “Repeated violations of our terms may lead to account termination.”
The bans were first reported on Wednesday by Daniel Eleff, the owner of money-saving site Dan’s Deals. Multiple members of his forum had found their Google accounts deactivated, after they’d taken advantage of a deal involving shipping the phone to a reseller in New Hampshire, a US state with no sales tax, who would then split the profit with them after the phone was sold on.
The scheme broke Google’s terms and conditions, and the company banned accounts which had ordered a Pixel phone to be shipped to the reseller (despite the fact that the rule hadn’t previously been enforced in similar situations involving the company’s Nexus phones). It even banned the account of one user which hadn’t ordered a phone, but was listed as the recovery account of an account which had.
Given the scale of Google’s business, however, many of the banned users felt that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Eleff wrote: “I’m not defending those who violated the terms of the sale, but I do think it is heavy handed for Google to block access to all of their services for doing so. Was violating Google’s phone resale policy really worthy of an effective digital death penalty?”
Banned users couldn’t access their emails, voicemails, or uploaded files; they lost access to the photos they’d stored in Google Photos, and any accounts linked to their email address as a password reset or login service.
After the initial reports of the bans, Google emailed Eleff a defence of its actions, saying: “We identified a scheme in which consumers were asked to purchase Pixel devices on behalf of a reseller, who then marked up the cost of those devices in order to resell them to other customers. We prohibit the commercial resale of devices purchased through Project Fi or the Google Store so everyone has an equal opportunity to purchase devices at a fair price. Many of the accounts suspended were created for the sole purpose of this scheme.”
The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Guardian, but its letter to Eleff concluded: “After investigating the situation, we are restoring access to genuine accounts for customers who are locked out of many Google services they rely on.”
Google is not the only company which is unrestrained in its use of the bans. Amazon has come under fire for similarly disproportionate responses, in one case banning a user from its site and all its digital services simply for returning too many items.
Eleff recommends that Google users, even those who think they may not be banned, get in the habit of using Google Takeout, the company’s data-exporting service, to perform weekly back-ups of their Google data. “Many others have moved their email to private servers and other hosts in order to diversify their online presence in case they ever run afoul of Google’s terms,” he adds.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Friday 18th November 2016 12.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010