Danah Boyd’s friend Bob’s story of being Google-deleted (GMail, Blogger, Calendar, Orkut, et al) brought back the abject panic I felt back in July, 2006 when my blog was hacked and my GMail account locked out. Unlike Bob, I wasn’t the victim of phishing, but the result was the same. Not only could I not log in, I couldn’t get anyone — not one single solitary person — from Google to respond to my concerns until I started blogging it and others started having the same problem. In Bob’s case, he had friends in high Google places, but most ordinary folks like me don’t.
Out of that horrid experience, I developed this strategy for working around any future Google deletions:
- Use a very strong unique password for GMail.
- Set up a Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail account with an email address only you know and a very strong secure password entirely different from your GMail account. Whatever you do, don’t use that account for anything else. Zero, zip, nada.
- Use GMail’s forwarding service to forward your incoming and outgoing email to your secret account. Even if your GMail is hacked, they shouldn’t be able to get to the secret account, because your password will be a very strong secure DIFFERENT one. If your GMail account is deleted, you will have backup copies on your secret email account to recover quickly, because even if you’re lucky enough to get someone from Google to restore your account, it’s still nice to get to your email and contacts rapidly.
- Archive your GMail on a regular basis. When you archive, it’s much easier for Google to restore your account if something happens, and you control what they keep on their servers.
- If you want a local copy, download your GMail account on a regular basis to your local email client just to be safe.
As I learned back in 2006, when you’re using a free service like GMail and start to rely on it, it’s a good idea to make it as secure as possible and also to have a fail-safe in place, because it happens all the time for no apparent reason.
I just hope it never happens to you, because it’s a really lost, helpless feeling.