That’s the number of times I submitted an appeal to Google. Twelve times.
Look, I don’t like going to court. In fact, I hate going to court. It’s extremely time-consuming, risky, and frustrating. That’s why I spent months appealing to Google a dozen times. Because I really, really, really didn’t want to go to court.
What can you do, though, when a company takes your hard-earned money, locks the things purchased with that money into a particular account, then decides somewhere along the way that they don’t like your name. That’s right, for no particular reason … they just don’t like it, and because they don’t like it, they’ve decided that you can’t use it anymore.
Several times last year, I was asked why I put all the time and effort into suing Apple. Since nobody else with the issue sued, people wanted to know, why me of all people?
“That’s exactly the reason I had to do it”, I said, “because nobody else would. I’m the only person who didn’t complain on the Internet, and leave it at that.”
When the MacBook video card issue reared its ugly head back in 2008, various Apple forums swelled with Internet posters claiming that they were going to sue Apple. I saw dozens of such claims, so when my card finally failed, I figured there would be all kinds of previous cases to read about.
After much online searching, however, I learned that nobody put up. None. Not one person. All I could find were braggadocios comments by people who insisted that they were going to sue the daylights out of Apple Computer, but none who actually followed through in any capacity. That’s when it hit me. The realization that, with very few exceptions, everyone on the Internet is full of shit. All anonymous talk, no real-life action. That’s why I had to try. It’s why I have to try again.
With each year that goes by, American companies become more and more shameless about violating consumer’s rights, and honestly, it’s hard to blame them. It’s not their fault that people don’t fight back, and frankly, they can’t believe they get away with it either.
Last year, Time Magazine Business & Money wrote an article about me. While I felt that it was a solid piece with interesting commentary, I did take exception to the last paragraph, which stated:
“Companies know most consumers won’t have the time, resources or ability to take them to court,” says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “They’re scrambling to make money every day. To write letters, keep records, get on the phone — this takes a level of persistence and time most people don’t have.”
While I get the gist of what Mr. Rheingold was saying, Neilson ratings, box office numbers, beer sales, National Enquirer circulation numbers, and sporting event attendance rebut the notion that people don’t have the time to stand up for themselves. They just choose not to.
To this day, I still get the odd message from Apple fans accusing me (anonymously, of course) of having “too much time on my hands”. It’s a charge I’ve heard many times over the past couple of years, but a charge that’s always puzzled me. Do these same people run into movies theaters and yell the same accusations? How about football stadiums? How about themselves, taking time out of their day to criticize a complete stranger who never even invited them to his website? Do they level the same charges against these people?
No, they take exception to none of those things, it’s only the fighting back against consumer abuse that gets the “frivolous use of time” charge. Not the Superbowl halftime show or engaging in the consumerist claptrap du-jour that registers in American’s brains as time frittered away … only reading and applying the law against company malfeasance. Interesting how that happened.
Every year, large corporations push the envelope further, and each time, they expect an outcry. A backlash. When that doesn’t happen, nobody is more surprised than they are.
Shocked by the ease of manipulating the public, they push it even further, this time certain that there will be some kind of repercussions, but again, nothing. Pretty soon, the sky’s the limit:
“You’re going to let us get away with this?”
“Alright, then … how about this …. uhhhh … by using our product, you agree to waive all of your legal rights … including the right to sue us?”
“That’s right, no matter what we do, even if it causes everyone in your household to die a slow and painful death, uh, you promise not to sue us, ever, in perpetuity?”
“That’s fine too, eh?”
“You don’t say.”
“Honestly, we don’t have anything else, we never dreamed you’d let us get this far, but give us time and we’ll come up with something.”
And they will.
American companies have realized that as long as they violate consumers slowly enough, consumers eventually accept, and in many cases, even champion the abuse.
For instance, every time I read an article about someone being detained for refusing a Walmart bag check, 90% of the feedback in the comment section is in favor of the detention. “Why doesn’t he just let them check his bag, does he think he’s better than everyone else?”, is the prototypical comment.
That the consumer has the legal right to refuse the check is of no consequence. That the company is breaking the law by holding people against their will does not matter. The American consumer has been trained to regard with contempt anyone who resists the abuses of the corporate entity, and because of this, resistance is weak.
This lack of resistance has also corrupted what people like to call the “free market”. The notion that the market will take care of the bad guys is no longer a valid position. Each day that passes, consolidation reduces consumer choices even further, and we live in an era where our own Supreme Court upholds binding arbitration, a scenario which results in a “win” for the company 94% of the time, as fair adjudication of consumer issues. We exist in a time where contracts are no longer a meeting of the minds, instead, they are merely whatever 27-page, fine-printed document you can trick someone into clicking.
This is where we currently stand as a nation of consumers, and it’s why companies don’t really care if they harm us. It’s why a company like Google can just wake up one day, decide they don’t like people with certain names, and proceed to “ban” them from using the names. Even if it’s their own, legal name.
It’s why, when that consumers appeal, they just laugh and tell the consumer to go pound sand, much like an arbitration firm would.
Remember, Google is a company that doesn’t have a phone number, or even an email address set up to deal with consumer issues. Think about that. No phone number, no email address. A multi-billion dollar company, which is so hostile to its own customers, that it doesn’t even want to hear a single word they might have to say.
And, yet, they’re one of the wealthiest companies in the nation.
It’s not like we don’t have choices, though. After all, if we don’t like the way Google does business, there’s always their far more ethical competitor … Apple.
Yeah, it’s a tough time to be a consumer in this country, and while I certainly do my share of complaining online, I will not ever become one of those people who uses it as a substitute for action. Without followup, griping is just so much more inane banter on the Internet. If you don’t intend to do anything about it, that’s when it’s a waste of time.
With that in mind, once again, here goes nothing …
To Whom it May Concern,
My name is Rex. This is my full, legal name. I am mononymous.
Approximately three years ago, I created a Google Account to use for my Android devices. Since creating the account, I have purchased several Android devices to service the account, and I have purchased dozens of “apps” through the account. Google received an unspecified payment for the hardware, and received approximately 30% of the purchase price for each app that I purchased. They also recognized revenue through my use of this account by using said information for advertising purposes.
Recently, I was notified by Google that my name does not conform to their policies, and I may no longer use it. When I tried to change my Google account name to my legal name, however, I was informed that this name also did not conform to their policies.
Since I do not possess a first name, I used the name “Seattle Rex” for the account. This is how I am known colloquially by my peers and throughout the online community. This name was accepted by Google’s system when I signed up.
In order to comply with Google’s “names policy”, I tried changing my name to “Rex”, then “NFN Rex”, No First Name Rex, No Last Name Rex, Rex Rex, and numerous other permutations and combinations of my name.
In each of these cases, I was informed that my name did not comply to the Google names policy.
Ironically, Google had no problem with my name when I added a credit card to the account under the name “Rex”. In fact, Google has taken payments from me under the names “Seattle Rex” or “Rex” on numerous occasions. Not once have they refused to take my money because my name doesn’t suit them.
Certain that the name issue was a simple computer error, I tried submitting numerous disputes to Google’s human staff, but for months, the “appeal” button was broken. Finally, recently, the appeal button began working, and at this point in time I have disputed their decision no less than 12 times.
Each time, the human staff informed me that neither “Seattle Rex” nor “Rex” could be used for my Google Account, because my name “does not comply with Google’s policies”.
Furthermore, when I seek their counsel, and ask them how I can use my name while still complying with Google’s “name policy”, they steadfastly refuse to tell me.
This complete lack of accountability is unacceptable. Google cannot take my money, arbitrarily and selectively alter the product I paid for, and refuse to even offer the most rudimentary of explanations for their actions. It’s patently unconscionable, and twelve times is not a fluke or an “error”. Twelve responses, each stating the same thing, is an accurate representation of Google’s position.
Which brings me to my issue.
At this point in time, my account bears the name “John Doe” which is completely unrecognizable by anyone who is familiar with me. I have no use for an account that bears the name of another individual, however, to add insult to injury, Google will not allow me to transfer my apps to another account. In order to continue use of the applications that I paid for, I have to maintain an account under the name “John Doe”. Once again, this is not even remotely acceptable.
Therefore, all of the above being true, I am hereby demanding one of three courses of action by Google:
1) My Google Account name changed to “Seattle Rex”.
2) My Google Account name restored to “Rex”.
3) Damages in the amount of $5,000, and the immediate deletion of all of my information from Google’s servers.
If one of the three actions are not taken by Google within 10 days of the date of this letter, I will proceed with what I expect to be two legal complaints against the company. One for damages in the amount of $5,000, another for a violation of Federal Anti-Discrimination Law.
Please understand that I am not bluffing. I sued Apple in 2012, and largely prevailed (I won my suit, but damages were reduced). In addition to having a Google Account in my name, I also blog under the name Seattle Rex, and I will likely make public my dispute with Google. I mention this only in the interests of full disclosure, so that Google cannot at any time claim that they were caught unaware by my intentions.
Google’s policies are highly-discriminatory, not to mention completely arbitrary.
What next, will my race at some point become retroactively against Google’s policies? My gender? My religion? My occupation? My sexual orientation?
As names tend to be revealing with regards to ones race, religion, gender, and nationality, it would be effortless for a company to use name-discrimination as a proxy for numerous other biases. For instance, requiring people named “Jamal” or “Mohammed” to go through documentation requirements that would not be required of someone named “Barry”, could go a long way toward furthering a company’s goals of making its services unavailable to certain groups of people.
That Google only welcomes those with traditional, common names to its network, is concerning. That it intends to deny services retroactively, and remove non-traditionally-named people from their rolls, despite multiple instances of human oversight, is frightening. That Google attempts to trick people into “agreeing” to their own discrimination, shocks the conscience.
There is nothing vulgar, profane, or offensive about the name “Rex”. The same can be said for “Seattle Rex”, or any other variation of my name. There exists no problem where people using names containing “Rex” are wreaking havoc on computer networks. Allowing the name “Rex” in no way threatens Google’s ability to transact business. That the name “violates Google’s policy” is arbitrary discrimination, and nothing else.
Also, please be advised that, until such time as Google assents to doing business with me as a legal entity, under my legal name (or a reasonable derivative thereof), “I” do not agree to any “agreements”, “terms of service”, or any other documents authored by Google. This includes any and all agreements I am induced to click through as a condition of trying to retrieve data or information remaining on their servers.
The current name on my account is “John Doe”. I am not John Doe. Usage of this name is merely a technical way around Google’s malfeasance, so that I may retrieve my remaining information and initiate an orderly unwinding of the account should Google not assent to using my legal name on the account.
This letter serves as notice that it is not my willful intent to be bound by any agreements unless and until Google changes the name on my account to one of the aforementioned names. The clicking of any link by myself, the checking of any box, or anything similar, shall hereby be undertaken solely as an effort to mitigate my damages, and not as an agreement to any of Google’s terms, especially those which limit my legal options and/or ask me to “agree” with the discrimination against myself.
Since Google locks purchases to a particular Google account, once a purchase is made, a consumer has fiduciary interest in that particular account. This is by Google’s design, not the consumer’s. This being the case, if Google has a problem with a particular aspect of a user account, said problem should be resolved before purchases are made through the account. Arbitrarily disallowing a consumer to use his/her own legal name years after the consumer has begun investing in the account, for absolutely no articulable reason, is unconscionable.
I am confident that a judge and/or jury will come to the same conclusion.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
Very Best Regards,
Rex a/k/a Seattle Rex
Showing up in search results ……. it was nice while it lasted.