As the money-saving website Dan’s Deal’s originally reported, Google suspended over 200 accounts for violating its terms of service by reselling Pixel Phones, sparking much controversy. The account lockouts, which suspended access to Gmail, Drive, Photos, and all other Google services, were imposed on individuals who took advantage of a tax loophole to make a small profit. These customers purchased the devices through Google’s Project Fi carrier service and shipped them to a reseller in New Hampshire (a state with no sales tax), and then the reseller and customer shared profits from the tax savings. Google has since reversed its decision to ban the accounts, but affected individuals will likely be unable to see what emails they missed during the ban.
Daniel Eleff, the founder of Dan’s Deals described the bans as “the 21st century version of losing priceless mementos in a house fire.” Consumers rely on Google accounts to access work documents, travel information, bills, medical records, and pictures. Few of the affected individuals backed up their digital data, and many likely did not read terms of service.
It is within Google’s legal rights to choose who to serve and to enforce its terms of service, but Google and other tech companies are so integral to many people’s daily lives that such companies have a higher responsibility to carefully weigh appropriate actions and ramifications for terms of service violations. Suspending accounts is a common punishment for terms of service violations, but the breadth of Google’s platform and the extent and importance of the personal and work-related information people store on its services means that this punishment can be crippling. As this development illustrates, individuals can lose valuable pieces of their digital identity for a low-level infraction.
As one of the affected resellers, Shmuel Super said,
“There isn’t an hour that [goes] by that I don’t think about the enormity of what Google has done to me. This is like a digital death sentence. Google’s slogan is ‘Don’t be evil,’ but to me, there is nothing more evil that what Google has done here.”
(Editor’s note: Google updated its motto from “Don’t be evil.” to “Do the right thing.” in October 2015.)
Daniel Levy who has been locked out since Monday, stated
“They confiscated my property and shouldn’t be trusted. I will never use their services again.”
Completely shutting down access to the troves of personal data that people store via Google services is a draconian punishment for what amounted to some dubious but minor profiteering. At the very least, suspended accounts should have been given some way to export their existing data. Some possible alternatives Google could have pursued aside from a total account suspension include: banning violators from using the Project Fi wireless carrier service, banning violators from buying more Pixel phones, limiting but not fully blocking account access, charging a fine for restoration of account access (however, this option would have required advanced disclosure).
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