There was a lot of hue and cry out there a month or so ago about the guy whose daughter cried when Google figured out she was underage and shut down her account. Most of the noise is appreciative of Rich Warren’s plight and we get it; a young girl has had her lifeline to her grandparents (and friends) ripped asunder by a big faceless company with no notice, right before she gets out of school for Christmas break. It was the first act of a perfect holiday made-for-TV movie — except this time, the Grinch won’t have a change of heart, and Ebenezer Scrooge woke up on December 25 colder than a brass toilet seat.
But Google, as is pretty much the modus operandi for companies that get really big and have lots of money, didn’t give any warning. It didn’t offer any way to assist Mr Warren in fixing his own mistake. It offered no alternative. It just slammed the door, locked it, and threw away the key. So much for “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” And there’s the rub. Google did just that: it focused on the fact that the user probably doesn’t have a lot of disposable income and isn’t likely to be a target for the advertising shoved at her through her Gmail account. And since Google reads her email — you didn’t know that? — it didn’t take them that long to figure out that she’s underage. Given enough data, it’s not that hard, and Google is very good at it.
But offer someone a day or two to download some photos, or archive some emails? Not in the cards. Sending an email — even an automated nasty one — that says “you have XX hours before your entire account is completely locked forever” (no, I don’t believe they’d get rid of it, because eventually, she will be old enough to have her own account)? Ain’t gonna happen. Try to find something in their help page that will assist you in leaving Google once you’ve been bounced? Maybe the moon will fall out of the sky.
The people I worked with in my college days had a joke about a competing restaurant company: you can’t complain about the service because there isn’t any. That, in a nutshell, is Google. Its culture isn’t focused on the user as a user; it’s focused on the user as a source of information with which to make money. Try to find a phone number or email address for anything related to “service” on their website; you’ll have better luck finding an honest politician. Some of Google’s executives famously use Twitter regularly — but don’t try to get an answer to a question about how your business has been poorly treated by Google’s systems, because they’ll ignore you, almost pointedly.
And yet most of us continue to use their services. We use their email accounts and search system. We buy devices that use their operating system. We have granted them the same status in our linguistic consciousness we granted Kleenex and Xerox and Coke. And they continue to treat all of us like … something else flushed, filtered and sent out to sea, while they laugh all the way to the bank, courtesy of eight jets for three executives.
That means it’s not going to change, either. After all, when you’re making money hand over fist by providing exceedingly bad or no service, why would you want to start?