Trust: the biggest problem with cloud services

Two days ago I read about Dylan’s Google crisis.  In his long post he described in painful detail how Google closed his email account along with all its accompanying Google services such as documents, photos, calendar, reader, bookmarks and so on. Basically his entire personal digital life was in the cloud and in one really unwarranted decision Google annihilated it and disrupted his personal and professional life.  I say “unwarranted” because he had no idea what item of the terms of use he supposedly violated.

Sure, it says in Google’s terms of use that they can delete your account at any time if they see a just cause for doing so.  We agree to the terms and most of us do our best to adhere to them.  But the sad part of the story is not that Google made a mistake, not that it denied a terms-abiding digital citizen access to the data that he trusted Google with. The sad part is that Google left him no way to try and fix the problem.

It turns out that once Google decides to terminate your account there is really nothing you can do about it. Dylan tried calling, emailing, asking questions in forums and physically going to their offices. Nothing helped until he started tweeting and his story received attention. I hope that his story has a happy resolution but the problem remains that Google (or any other cloud service) can deny access to accounts without giving you a reason or a way to appeal that decision.

Dylan thinks that government should intervene but I’m not sure we want that. We need a quick response to problems like these.

My idea is simple. Google cancels accounts they think are being used for “evil” purposes such as spamming, spoofing, phishing and so on. Most of these abusers, once denied access to an account will simply open another one. If an account is canceled in error, the owner can ask for an appeal and pay, say, $50 for the process. This is to weed out the evil-doers. Google then has a real live person contact that individual and explain the reason for the cancelation and offer a way to repeal that decision. Also, the user can explain his/her side of the story. If the account was canceled as a result of Google’s error, Google needs to refund the $50. If the account was canceled because of a minor and unintentional breach of the terms of use, the user has a way to fix the mistake and get his account back.  This way someone like Dylan can be heard.

Trust is one of the reasons people are slow to use cloud services.  Cases like these show us that we are right not to trust all of our data to the cloud… yet!

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