I am not a number; I am a free man, OR, why you should never rely on social media

In my post about switching to decentralized social media, I mentioned that I would later talk about G+.

Yes, I know, most people don’t pay a lot of attention to G+ anyway, but that’s what really brought home something that I’d actually been saying since 2015: If you don’t personally own your website and data, you don’t have a website or data.  Quite simply, you cannot rely on someone else for you to have a website, platform, or social media presence.

Let me tell you why.

On 24 March, I got this e-mail from Google:

An email from Google saying I had violated G+ rules.I had no idea what they were talking about, and there was no way for me to find out what post(s) they were referring to. Still, my suspended access would last for two weeks, so that was plenty of time for me to find out what was going on, right?

Nope.

TWO DAYS later I got this email:Google email saying I no longer had a G+ account. At all.I was a bit surprised. To put it mildly.

After all, my account had been suspended. I wasn’t able to post to G+, so how could I have violated the ToS further? But what upset me most was that this was a final judgment. I was told to pack my stuff up (if I wanted) and to go.

Again, G+ wasn’t (and isn’t) my primary social media outlet. But this disabled anything G+ touched – like my contacts I only had in circles instead of in “my contacts”. It involved all my G+ posts. It (probably) involved the ability of people to find me on the internet.  It definitely effected the ability of people to comment on my blog, which was (at the time) hosted on Blogger.

This experience really brought home for me the experiences of people who have had social media accounts banned for unknown reasons (such as, this example about Facebook from 2012).

My appeal to Google was quick and succinct:

I do not know what content was posted that violates G+ policies. I asked what posts violated those policies so that I could correct the action after being put on limited access, and have not gotten a reply. I then got an email saying that I continued to post to G+… except that I had limited access, which means that I literally would not have been able to post further to G+ as I am accused of doing. I would love to have someone explain this to me, as I am a loyal Google customer and want to fix the problem instead of leaving the company. Thank you.

I do not know what content was posted that violates G+ policies. I asked what posts violated those policies so that I could correct the action after being put on limited access, and have not gotten a reply. I then got an email saying that I continued to post to G+… except that I had limited access, which means that I literally would not have been able to post further to G+ as I am accused of doing. I do not understand what is going on and would love for Google to respond.

It’s worth noting that just putting that appeal in was difficult. I needed my actual G+ number, not the customized account name. I hadn’t stored that number anywhere, so I couldn’t file an appeal. I couldn’t get the number because when I tried to look it up, I got a “you’ve been banned” notification.

It is literally impossible to contact the G+ team other than via their webform. I tried. Cathy at Google (when I reached her via phone) sent me this email:An extremely unhelpful email sending me info I already knew.That support link? The same link that I’d earlier told Cathy hadn’t given me the information that I needed to solve my problem.

I restated the problem to Cathy: I needed to appeal a ban that happened because of something I’d posted when I was not able to post. I could not do so without the G+ number. I did not have the G+ number because I was banned. The “help” she provided was the exact same page that had led me to try to find human help.

She became a lot less friendly with me at that point, and was openly hostile to the idea that I’d write about my experience with her later.  (If you’re reading this, hi Cathy!)

If I needed any confirmation that Google (and Facebook, and Twitter) think of us as the product and not the consumer, this was it.

Three days later, with no explanation, I had my G+ access back.Restatement of G+ access

This is not enough.

I now know, in my gut, how fragile my access to the services Google, Facebook, and Twitter supply are.

Because – and I cannot stress this enough – my ban from G+ was due to something I supposedly posted to G+ when I was unable to post to G+.  Hell, I still don’t know what got me in trouble in the first place.

Regardless, my trust is broken, and my role as product has been made painfully clear.

That’s why I’ve begun migrating away from Google. My blog is now self-hosted. I’ve embraced Mastodon. Contacts and Calendar are more difficult, but I’m probably going to use a Nextcloud instance for that.

While my particular situation was “resolved”, I am going to join the chorus urging people to stop being reliant on any of the big social media/tech companies – Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook.

I am not a number. I am a free man.

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2 Comments

  1. Joe
    April 29, 2018

    Your blog is not “self hosted”, nor is any Mastodon instance, even if you think they are; any Internet-connected hosting space receives Internet from “someone else” and it has a terms of service under which you can be cut off for any reason or none at all. You say that you “cannot rely on someone else” for Internet access, but that statement is false by definition! Even the most major Internet backbone providers rely on “someone else” via peering agreements. Since you must rely on “someone else” or forgo Internet entirely, choose wisely.

    • April 29, 2018

      That’s a good point, though you are nitpicking the definition of “self hosted” beyond the way it’s typically used.

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