Beware of google’s pressure tactics

It seems for the moment I will be unreachable by my gmail account, today google sent me a rude surprise:

The screen google presented to me today harassing me for private information

Of course I could have suspected something like this was going to happen, I started receiving some similar warning splash screens from google this week in the disguise of “Protect your account, give us some alternative contact information”, they gave the “option” to provide a mobile phone number or alternative email account (of course I have an alternative anonymous hotmail account they can use to reactivate my account, the account at hotmail is still valid but I suppose for them its not enough).

Well I guess push has finally come to shove and their user interface provides me no alternative to reactivating my account other than to provide them with some mobile cell phone number.

This is crossing the line; obviously if my account had been hijacked the hijacker could just as well provide any cell phone number to have continued access to my account – the motive behind this harassment is plain to me and the way they are going about it is just plain sneaky.

No, google has no right to know who is the human being behind the persona that is “tristan.van.berkom@gmail.com”, they can speculate whatever they want while going through the contents of my account which I expect they are already sharing with a number of criminal organizations and governments…  however I am not yet desperate enough to sign my own death warrant by volunteering them any further personal information than what traffic passes through my account.

If you value your anonymity on the internet… I think it’s about time to salvage your gmail content before they take it hostage from you too !

UPDATE:

@foobar:

Learn more about your support options link

Ofcourse I wrote them something via the “contact support” link, I’m waiting for a reply now we’ll see.

I may however find someone I trust to obtain an anonymous phone number for this purpose but that seems a little overboard.

39 Responses to “Beware of google’s pressure tactics”

  1. foobar says:

    IIRC you can still verify your account without a phone number (I don’t have any and it worked for me, even creating an appengine account was possible).

    I think you have to follow the “learn more about your support options link”.

  2. mrmcq2u says:

    This happened to me while on holidays, I am seriously searching for alternatives now as I was forced to verify to ensure I did not miss any emails regarding job opportunities.
    It was blatantly obvious to me at the time that it had nothing to do with securing my privacy though.

  3. Greg says:

    It’s a free service. If you don’t like it, move to another free or paid service. It’s that simple.

  4. John says:

    You can’t seriously think the only thing keeping you anonymous on the internet is not providing a phone number to Google.

    You’re not anonymous on the internet and it’s delusional to think you are:

    1) Your name is Tristan Van Berkom
    2) You work for openismus
    3) You live in Montreal, QC.

    I had no idea who you were until randomly reading this post on planet.gnome – but with 2 minutes of googling I found all of that.

    Oh and,

    “I expect they are already sharing with a number of criminal organizations”
    “I am not yet desperate enough to sign my own death warrant”

    What the fuck? Why are you using any google services if you think they are sharing your information with criminal organizations and only need 7 digits (already know the area code is 514 or 438) before they can kill you? You’re paranoid and as I said at the beginning, delusional.

  5. Roguelazer says:

    “they can speculate whatever they want while going through the contents of my account which I expect they are already sharing with a number of criminal organizations and governments…  however I am not yet desperate enough to sign my own death warrant”

    Jeezum, paranoid much? There might be legitimate reasons not to want google to have your phone number, but thinking they’re going to give it to criminal organizations so that they can kill you passes right through ridiculous into crazy land.

  6. mrmcq2u says:

    I know its a free service but it would have been nice to at least be given notice before they completely lock me out of my account to scrape needless private information.

  7. Dylan McCall says:

    For what it’s worth, they do the same during account creation now, presumably to cut back on spam. A robot calls you, you press a number and it’s done. I suppose it isn’t totally out there for the number to be stored, but I can certainly say you have not been singled out.

    If you distrust your email provider this much, I wonder if you should be using them ;)
    Unfortunately I’ve no suggestions for alternatives, but surely someone does.

  8. tvb says:

    @Greg:
    Sure, of course I need to drop my addiction to google mail if they are going to play hardball and authenticate/verify/accuse me of having a real identity.

    But it’s not entirely that simple, take mrmcq2u’s comment for example, he was not prudent enough to back up his mail on any physical media and google decided to take his information hostage (I was not that prudent either, though I am prepared to lose all that information as I’m lucky enough to not be entirely dependent on it).

    However you seem to miss the main points of my blog:
    a.) A warning to unsuspecting google mail users who may be left with no alternative but to agree to their new unwritten policy of only affording mail accounts to people whom admit to having an identity.

    b.) A general question of freedom and ethics. To work towards a free world people need to protect their rights to communicate freely and anonymously otherwise we leave too much power to rampant gangs/authorities and service providers.

    The internet in general is currently playing an important role in allowing people to communicate freely and anonymously google’s actions to demand some connection to a real identity is at least worthy of note here.

    Imagine a world in which you cannot express your views openly, share ideas, protest and mobilize revolutions with the aid of the internet… whether google is only caving in to some requests by some more powerful groups (such as the government of China or Australia for instance[0]) is quite besides the point. As citizens of the world we need to be braced and prepared for this, we need to find alternative ways to communicate and index/search the internet that empowers people to communicate, educate ourselves and fight back.

    Needless to say, these means of communication cannot come at a price, they need to be offered for free (another great reason to participate in writing free software, its a means of empowering people and balancing world power).

    [0] It’s common knowledge anyway but heres a random article about google’s essential cooperation to hide facts from Chinese citizens (although there is at least some apparent resistance, bravo):
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/mar/23/google-china

  9. tvb says:

    @Roguelazer:
    Just a little touch of sarcasm; by criminal organizations I’m merely referring to extortionists, kidnappers, slave drivers: generally all practices of the prominent first world governments of our time.

    You may think that’s from crazy land, but for a random example; in South Korea you can be arrested for displaying on your website a certain famous picture of a politician who thought it was a good idea to take a picture eating an unwashed dirty cucumber from a farmer’s market… (apparently he thought that’s the way normal/poor people ate cucumbers).

  10. joe says:

    “No, google has no right to know who is the human being behind the persona that is “tristan.van.berkom@gmail.com”

    Of course they do. You are using their service under their terms.

  11. tvb says:

    @John, sure I’m not trying to hide that, and I promise I’ll update my current address (I dont live in Canada).

    But I am definitely offended that google requires me to be a real person to operate their mail service, for reasons you may think are paranoid and delusional, thats your choice.

  12. tvb says:

    @joe: Obviously not anymore.

  13. mrmcq2u says:

    @Joe – I think you miss the point. I don’t think tvb had any problem with the terms of the service he signed up to. The problem arises when the terms change leaving you no route to take your data and leave.

  14. Sean says:

    It’s a freaking phone number. Jebus. It’s even a very good identity theft prevention mechanism; phone numbers are difficult to create en masse, are (as you are so aptly demonstrating) personal enough that a real scammer/theft isn’t going to give his to Google when trying to hack your account, and the majority of account break-ins are conducted by trojan clouds and not by a person sitting next to a phone.

    It’s probably for your own damn good. Your account may very well have actually been targeted recently, triggering Google’s anti-fraud system to take some extra steps. It’s not like Google specifically picked you out as some interesting guy to target with a personal identity harassment because an evil government agency decided you’re the next upcoming terrorist mastermind. Nor is Google forcing every GMail user to hand over a phone number arbitrarily. For all you know, Google’s actions might actually have protected you.

    It’s just a fucking phone number.

    First it was IBM who everyone loved to hate because of their success. Then Microsoft got too big and popular with the masses to be acceptable Then Apple turned out to be the hip guy at the party that the nerds had to hate on. And before the Apple-hatred even cooled down, it turned out that Google is wildly popular and prolific and needs to be hated and feared lest they steal your unborn babies to turn them into targeted banner ads that track and report your porn habits to the Ministry of Moral Mandates and their gun-wielding holy warriors of cleansing. Sigh. Out of all the actually important, meaningful things to get upset over (in a world where people are spending too much time being upset in the first place), why people pick irrelevant crap like this to jig up their hate-ometer is absolutely dumbfounding.

  15. ethana2 says:

    Personally I don’t want any physical or online account of mine to receive any email that’s anonymous, ever. So, while I think you should have the right to not provide that information, I should have the ability to opt out of receiving everything one would send me from such an account.

  16. Roshan says:

    Sean: So close yet so far. Microsoft got into trouble because of antitrust law. That only kicks in when Microsoft is big enough. That’s just how it is. You can choose to forget whatever you like but others will remember, so try not to bullshit too much.

  17. twitter says:

    So why do I have to leave an email address to post here again? To protect my privacy? I usually leave people Bill Gate’s email address and a link to stories published at Slashdot. That should be enough for you to tell where I’m coming from but it won’t do anything to keep others from impersonating me. So go the sad facts of a non free web, where you and I are unable to easily run web services, such as email, from our homes. Diaspora may help. You will be able to publish on your own terms if you truly understand and fight for your software and network freedom.

    In the mean time, Google is still mostly your friend.. I have not seen these messages yet. That might be because I rarely their online interface for more than search. All of my gmail comes to me via imap or pop to kmail, where it is whisked from their inbox to my local maildir folders by filters. The service I’ve gotten from gmail has been much better than any other, especially ISP provided email. The only thing better would be to run your own server, but most ISPs foolishly block that option in a failed and cynical effort to reduce spam.

    If Google says there’s unusual activity on your gmail, I’d have a closer look at your gmail. There’s new crop of Microsoft worms running around. If you access your gmail through Windows, there’s a good chance your account is being used to spam people. I’m not sure how you would detect this because the spammers can cover their tracks if they have your gmail credentials but you might catch them by looking at your “all” and sent folders.

  18. anonymous says:

    Real anonymous communication can only be achieved with the help of anonymous networks like http://www.freenetproject.org or https://www.gnunet.org

  19. aklapper says:

    So what else would you expect / would be appropriate in cases that there is suspicious behaviour? Sending an email to the affected gmail account?

  20. tvb says:

    @aklapper, they did ask me for a security question and alternative email account, they could simply ask me my security question.

  21. oliver says:

    Out of curiosity, what information would you (commenters) be willing to disclose to Google (or your current email hoster) for keeping your email account? I’d be willing to give them my email address, a fake (but close-to-correct) name, and I think that’s it – but then again I’m over-sensitive there :-)

    Would you be willing to give out:
    - your real name
    - real address (street + number, city, zip code)
    - home phone number
    - mobile phone number
    - work phone number
    - employer name (company name)
    - your other email addresses (hotmail, work email)
    - names and/or account details for other sites (Facebook etc.)
    - credit card number
    - bank pin codes
    - sex, weight, height, eye color, hair color
    - maiden name
    - real names of relatives or other related people
    - your mother’s/father’s name and/or detailed data (address, phone numbers, email)

    I’ve included some extreme choices which likely nobody would disclose :-) but I’d be really curious to known what kind of information people regard as “too valuable”.

  22. Currently, I’ve been interested by a number of issues that have really been bugging me, and yes — they have to do with reverse cellphone lookup providers! Can not seem to bring them to thoughts right now, however after I do — yessirree — I am gonna let you’ve gotten it. BTW, we’re still speaking about telephones, right?

  23. TGM says:

    I had this a while back. When I checked my activity log (look near the bottom of the page) I had someone from an Eastern European country hacking into my account via m.google.com. I also found a lot of returned emails where said person had sent spam links from my account. You’d be well advised to check yourself.

  24. Andrew A. says:

    Hi This is twice now i’ve landed on your blog in the last 3 weeks looking for totally unrelated things.

  25. Sorry, Mr. Crank Caller, but what had been you thinking? Why would you ever even affiliate your real title along with your phone number ? Please, let’s get back

  26. Magid says:

    be warned: they have your IP address too, so maybe you should move to another location!

    if you really want to stay “anonymous” use a phone at work, or get a free demo pre-paid card, and please start using an alias on the interwebz, like ParanoidAndroid, or L337Blogger, or G00G13H4xx, or Is0ld3isH07 ;-)

    @Oliver:
    most of the info you mentioned is already out there… billing, shipping and support contact services… they all require those, except of course for those silly ones you threw into the mix (the last 3 and the pin code ones)

    Magid.

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  28. yuyang says:

    google is always in beta

  29. Mui Bledsaw says:

    Don’t be telling me what to buy. Simply do like everybody else does — blame the government. Backside line: the reverse phone lookup is a wonderful service — however, despite the fact that I will not purchase it.

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