Once upon a time, vendors like Apple and Microsoft sold you things and then stood by the phone, happy to help resolve any problems that might arise from the use of their products. But in the modern world of free services, you get what you pay for: nothing.
I was reminded of this the other day when I had to contact Google for help recovering my daughter's email account, which had been the target of a hack that rivals Mat Honan's, and was the account the hacker used to take control of her Facebook account, among others. After an hour of battling with the hacker for control of her account (In between posting vile things about her to everyone in her address book, he kept up a conversation with me over IM, which was... eerie), I turned on two-step authentication and halted the problem. But in my rush to get rid of him, I saved all the application-specific passwords Google provides but neglected to note the password I used for my daughter's Gmail account.
Stupid, I know. But it was a heat-of-the-moment sort of thing. I was in a panic.
Turning To Google
Sadly, Google proved ill-equipped and indisposed to help resolve the issue. Due to the frenetic activity around my daughter's account, Google wouldn't allow us the normal means for recovering a password. Fine. I figured I'd call Google for help.
No, really. Stop laughing. It turns out you can actually call someone at Google. (But not at Facebook.) No, you won't find a phone number on Google's support page. That might encourage users to actually call Google. But in a world that uses software without paying for it, you're the product, not the customer.
I did find a number eventually, but it's apparently only available in cases of exceptional trouble recovering one's account. Ironically, it required me to sign up for Google Wallet to get the phone number, even though the stated price was $0.00. (Note to Google: that may well have been a great time to force me into signing up for an ancillary service, given how desperate I was, but it didn't endear you to me.)
Thirty minutes later, my daughter and I had talked with a nice customer support woman, somewhere (when I told her I was in Chicago, she said "I believe that is considered a large American city?"). She promised to have a response to me within two days.
It has now been almost a week and I've had no response. So I emailed Google to check on the status (I didn't have a tracking number so I just sent the email and prayed). A day later, I received this response:
Unfortunately, based on the information you provided, we’re unable to return the account at this time. Here are some of the reasons why we can’t return the account at this time...
The reasons given don't actually apply in my case, and in no way reference the extensive information we gave over the phone. Maddening.
Eric Knorr highlights the deteriorating quality of support in the bring-your-own-device world. But that's nothing compared to the nearly nonexistent support for anyone stuck in user land. Would I pay for better support for my Gmail account? Yes. But can I pay? No. I pay through my eyeballs, when it turns out I'd prefer to pay with my wallet. Vendors seem to respond better to that kind of direct cash incentive.
Given how much of our lives we put into free online services, I suspect this is going to become an increasingly serious issue. But until vendors give us a way to pay, we're always going to be an unsupported "product."
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.