I keep reading that the Google support guy “nitecruzr” who heaped abuse on Ann Althouse was just a volunteer, and that Google shouldn’t be blamed for his actions. For example, an Instapundit reader writes Glenn to say nitecruzr “doesn’t appear” to be a Google employee.
Maybe not . . . but this post proves that Google chose to allow nitecruzr to represent Google with respect to problems at Blogger web sites. And if you allow Google to pretend that nitecruzr did not represent Google, you are letting Google off the hook.
I am not just saying this, I am about to prove it. Here’s the executive summary:
First, nitecruzr was the guy at a Google.com domain who was allowed to interface with Althouse, at a web site where Google directs people to go to “write us.” (If you have any doubts on that score, I elaborate here, and at the end of this post.) Second, nitecruzr had the ability to delete comments on that forum. Third, he claims to have the ability to escalate a support request. Fourth, and most important, from comments at the Althouse site, we now learn that this guy has the ability to flag your Google account for review.
I’ll work these points in reverse order, because that last point is the one I find most eye-opening.
Nitecruzr’s Ability to Flag the Google Accounts of People who Objected to his Behavior
From a comment at Althouse by someone called “EnigmatiCore”:
It really needs to be highlighted how those who made comments, subsequently deleted by Nitecruzr, had their accounts flagged as needing ‘verification’ due to ‘unusual activity’– making it that we either had to give them our phone number, or lose access to our accounts.
It happened to several of us.
(All emphasis in this post is mine.)
I left a comment asking for anyone who experienced that to write me at patterico AT gmail DOT com. I have since received this e-mail from EnigmatiCore, who elaborates on his story:
I wrote a fairly lengthy comment on the Google help boards. I did not name call, nor make any personal attacks. I offered constructive criticism, including suggesting that Nitecruzr contemplate why all of his posts on that thread had been scored as ‘unhelpful’ by readers, and pointing out that there was nothing in the links he was providing even remotely relevant to the matter at hand, and that his assumptions were incompatible with the tenets of good customer service.
I waited a few minutes, and hit refresh to see if there was anything further. I saw that a few people had clicked the ‘was this answer helpful’ link on my comment, and saw a few others making complaints, but no reply from Nitecruzr.
A few minutes later, I hit refresh again. This time, my post was gone, and there was a strange, out of context “2 of 100” comment from Nitecruzr. I decided to go back to Althouse’s backup blog and make a comment there about how much of a jerk that guy was, but I found when I did that my Google account had been temporarily disabled due to ‘unusual activity’. Further, to recover my account, they would need a phone number to either send a text message or a voice message with a verification code to enter.
I contemplated just walking away from that account because, why would I give my phone number to them especially with the way things were going down? But I gave in, and after getting the text message (which I still have) I was able to enter the validation code and resume logging in.
If nitecruzr is just some random dude with no connection to Google, how does he have the ability to flag your account for calling him rude and unprofessional?
[UPDATE: See the update below for another example of someone who criticized nitecruzr and had his account flagged. He was unable to access his Gmail account until he gave Google his cell phone number.]
Nitecruzr’s Ability to Delete Forum Comments and Escalate Requests for Review
The above e-mail I quoted provides some evidence of nitecruzr’s ability to delete posts at the help forum provided by Google. That point is clear to everyone who has followed the controversy, but if you want to brush up on the full record of nitecruzr’s shabby treatment of Althouse, go to this post of mine, which has a link to every comment left on the board by nitecruzr, Althouse, and third parties. If you click the link you will see numerous complaints from third parties who objected to the way that nitecruzr was deleting his taunts to Althouse and then pretending that she was getting outraged over other comments of his that were neutral, such as this:
OK, this is escalated to Blogger Support on your behalf.
We are sincerely sorry for any inconvenience which we are causing.
Note that, even on those rare occasions when nitecruzr was being polite, he was showing that he represented Google. He uses the term “we” and he represents that he has the ability to escalate Althouse’s problem to Blogger Support.
Ah, but that’s just nitecruzr saying he is part of the “we” that represents Google. What is Google saying? Turns out, they’re saying the same thing, because . . .
When Google Says “Write Us” You Get Someone Like Nitecruzr
The final point is to establish that nitecruzr, whether he is paid by Google or not, represents Google. At this page I take you through the steps that someone with a Blogger blog must go through to contact Google. At the end of the process, though, when you have exhausted all other alternatives, you get an option to “write us”:
Read what that says. Write “us” for help. They aren’t saying: “go to this third-party forum for help.” They are saying write “us” — Google — for help. And here is what happens when you click that:
That’s the same http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger/ address that Althouse found herself at. A forum where someone like nitecruzr represents himself and Google as “we” or “us”; where he has the ability to delete posts at will; where he can escalate issues to Blogger support; and where he heaps abuse on people asking for help.
This is not a “nitecruzr issue,” folks. It’s a Google issue. Google needs to step up and take responsibility for what it did to Althouse.
You might wonder why I appear so invested in this. Well, a big company once tried to take away blog-related property from me, too: my domain, patterico.com, in which I had invested years of sweat equity. The company that stole it (or, at a minimum, allowed it to be hijacked by a corporate cousin), 1&1, was every bit as unresponsive and rude as Google (yes, Google) was to Althouse. I can tell you that, as a blogger, watching years of your life get pissed away by a big company that doesn’t seem to care is not fun. For me, it took the media getting involved for something to happen. For Althouse, it took the involvement of Instapundit. What do the little guys do?
So this is personal. And I say Google needs to answer for this. I’m waiting.
UPDATE: I just got this e-mail from Dead Dog Bounce, who criticized nitecruzr for altering the thread in dishonest ways:
I’m the evil genius behind the “Dead Dog Bounce” comment on the Althouse thread. If possible, I’d prefer that my real name were kept out of general circulation.
I signed up to comment on the Althouse thread. When I went to access my mail today, for the first time since September 2004 when I opened my gmail account, I had to provide a cellphone number to verify my account.
I’ve used gmail as my primary email address since 2004. I’ve got a blog (collecting tumbleweed) on Blogger. it occurs to me that I need to start thinking, at the very least about disaster planning in case Google takes a dislike to me. I’m
genuinely scared of them now.
Thanks for highlighting this issue. Google are of a size and reach now that Microsoft can only dream of. Anyone with a gmail account is essentially trusting their identity to a company that makes a selling point of not having any point of
contact. Only stupid people ignore threats like that.
UPDATE x2: And nitecruzr is still allowed by Google to represent the face of “Google help” — even today, even after his dishonest and abusive treatment of Althouse yesterday. Again: wow.
UPDATE x3: I just got locked out of my Google account. I now have to provide a cell phone number to get back in. This is what I saw when I tried to access Gmail:
Do I want to give Google my cell phone number? No. But I currently rely on Gmail. So I am faced with a tough choice.
I will probably give in. And I will probably explore new options for e-mail.
I will have a new post about this soon. I am locked out of Google Reader as well. I plan to explore what else is disabled, for the offense of criticizing nitecruzr.
UPDATE x4: It happened to Hoystory as well. He says so in the comments. That makes four of us.
UPDATE x5: Oh, I forgot. My co-blogger Aaron told me by Gmail (before it went down) that it happened to him too. And, like Hoystory, he criticized nitecruzr on a forum thread. (I did today as well, on this one. It has since been deleted, but I have screenshots, of course.)
So that’s five.