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Digital rights Law & Freedom, GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source, personal

Depending on web services

What would happen if your access to most of your online services were to be disabled? What would you loose?

I’ve been in situations where we have to decide either to run certain applications on our server, like E-mail, scheduling, project management, etc. Or use the ubiquitous, given-for-granted web services from huge companies with huge servers, like Google.

Most of the time, the decision is in favor of thrid party providers for such services, since the comodity of being just a few clicks away is huge. Also, it gives a good sensation of reliability. Except for Twitter, most web services are available 99.999% of the time.

Mako Hill and others at the Free Software Foundation have been warning about the posibility of depending so much on 3rd party services (information at http://autonomo.us) that you can be left out without data if the provider ceased to exist, killed the service or kick you out. They even have a wiki with a list of free software alternatives you can set up on your own machines to replace such services.

Well, the idea of finding Gmail or any other 3rd party software service unavailable is pretty much inconcievable. But what about your account being disabled without notice or reason?

That exact thing happened to me this past Friday. I was using my Gmail as usual in the morning, I went for lunch, came back and tried to log in. I got a message saying: Sorry, your account has been disabled. I filled out the contact form for support and only got an auto reply message and no help at all. The whole weekend passed and the situation was the same.

My account being disabled, meant that I had no longer access to my emails, my calendars, my rss feeds, my news, my homepage with its widgets and tools, my documents, notes, videos, website traffic statistics and finally my adsense account.

All these things I used to rely on Google, for the reasons stated at the begginning of this post. Bad idea.

What saved me

Fortunately for me, I had backups. I was recently testing a desktop rss feed reader aKgregator, and exported all my rss feeds from google reader to my computer. Since I’ve always hated web interfaces to interact with my email, I always checked my emails through Thunderbird via POP3.

I only lost access to my calendar appointments, my startup page widgets and some unimportant documents at Google apps, since I always use OpenOffice for all my documents. My videos that were uploaded are on my backup files and I don’t use Picasa for my photo album,though I do use Flickr, but all my pictures are perfectly safe on my backup files too.

Getting it back

So the whole weekend passed without any notice from Google support team. On monday, I started writing this post and looking for somone else that had a similar experience.

I came across this post with the story of Nick Saber. Same situation where his google account was disabled without any notice, warning or reason. On the comments I found that Google did replied to his emails and sent him this link. I followed the link and filled in the form with the questions. Minutes later I had an email saying that my account was enabled again. No explanations, nothing.

So if I never came across this blog post and this link, I would’ve never gotten my google services account back.

Lessons learned

Even though I have my account back, my relationship with Google will never be the same. Gmail will never be my primary email address ever again. I’ll always check it though POP3 as it turned out to be great for me. I’ll only use the rest of the google services a a nice to have online access, but not as my primary source of these services.

I’ll be running my own services using free software on a machine I own from now on as much as its possible. I can never again rely on someone else’s computer services. Its not going to be as nice and comfortable, but it will be reliable and completely mine.

You should consider being in a situation like mine and not be left out in the cold when you get kicked out of a service without notice or reason, and without your data.

Not like the others… photo is creative commons by greenapplegrenade

About the author

Gabriel Saldaña Gabriel Saldaña is a web developer, photographer and free software advocate. Connect with him on and Twitter

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Depending on web services by Gabriel Saldaña, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Mexico License.

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