postheadericon TECH TALK: When Good Things Go Evil...

Faithful followers of this column will remember that last time I touched glowingly on various aspects of “cloud computing,” and I had planned to follow that up with a review on Google’s much improved Blogger tool for aspiring web publishers. But then it happened...

I woke up this morning looking forward to reading my virtual paper and sipping on my really good cup of joe, only to find this message when I tried to log into my Google portal at www.google.com/ig: “Account has been disabled.”

Huh?

Now I have had this account for the past 6 or 7 years, ever since Google handed out invites to Gmail Beta, so you can imagine my shock – and later outrage.

“In most cases, accounts are disabled because of a perceived violation of either the Google Terms of Service or product-specific Terms of Service.”

I can’t possibly imagine what I could have done wrong, even though I have not read the hundreds of pages that make up the terms of services, but I suspect it might have something to do with my new blog created over the weekend. Could Google have perceived some kind of copyright infringement – of my own work – as that was all I had blogged?

But perhaps the account was hacked, or perhaps I am a schizophrenic bi-polar sleep walker whose other side is one of a pornographer or a mafia kingpin, and perhaps I did violate the terms while sleep typing, I dunno, but the result is no more email address, no more Google documents, no more Google blog, no more Picaso photos, no more membership in Google groups, no more Google friend connects, and no more access to Google analytics for the websites that I maintain.

So a big should out to all: Google really can “terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice,” and will apparently do so without showing any mercy whatsoever.

But being the big backup blowhard that I pretend to be here, I do have backups of just about everything mentioned above, all except the Google blog that I had intended on writing about today. I have other Gmail accounts and the same photos (pretty much) on Flickr, and so many other group memberships on other services, that losing a few on Google won’t hurt anyone one bit. All my emails are safely stored on my home computers, and synchronized with another service - MobileMe from Apple – that I highly recommend (until they too cut me off for something done while sleep walking).

But a big lesson learned today: Never put all your virtual eggs in one Google basket, i.e. don’t tie all your own cloud activities to a single Google account. In a flash, it could all be toast.

So is Google really evil then? (That question ran through my mind for the rest of the day.) Many techies tend to say “heck yes” (or something expletively stronger). Google is the devil incarnate, and has been for some time they cry! But up until this morning, I had no real reason to agree.

However, let’s think about Google for a moment: Google is a multi-billion dollar empire with hundreds of millions of user’s per day, all supplying intimate details about their lives and loves via a simple search box. Like Facebook, Google is determining who you are by what you do while using Google services (just as Facebook does) and in addition, they are out photographing our houses and businesses in 360 degrees and also geo-mapping the heck out of our collective movements, and in many cases, our individual movements as well.

And why are they doing all of this again? So our data can be sold to other billion dollar empires that all want to market us to death with 3D TVs, SUVs, and enough consumer soap to drown anyone in a single lifetime. And that’s the benign explanation. The nefarious explanation requires you to put on your tin hat.

And in exchange, we get all the wonderful free services that Google provides, uncoupling us forever from the arduous ownership of encyclopedias, phonebooks, and a sharp letter opener.

But taking these services for granted and considering them part of our human rights is a fallacy in the making, as revolutionaries around the world have recently found out. One of the first services to go in Libya was Google’s YouTube, followed by Twitter and Facebook of course. What is given out so freely can be taken away swiftly; another lesson learned on the march to global democracy.

But putting revolutions aside, all I really wanted to write about was how wonderfully easy blogs are to create in Google’s improved Blogger tool, but all I can actually report is how easy they are to lose – forever. Even with the “export blog” and “export template” feature that allows you to hypothetically back up your blog, if Google pulls your plug, you are looking down a very long road in recovering what you once published.

Personally, I’m switching to WordPress, in hopes that the little guys in the blogging world will treat us little boys and girls with a heck of a lot more respect.


NOTE: Just a few days after this article appeared in the Republica, my blogger account was restored just as mysteriously as it was taken down.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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