What Happens If Google Shut Down Your Account?

By Xah Lee. Date:

Yesterday, Google shut down my account for suspecting “unusual activity” for about 4 hours. on from ~4 pm to ~8 pm.

I have no idea why. I went to bed at 3pm to take a few hours sleep. I woke around 8pm. When i went to my gmail tab, it requires me to login. (usually i don't have to, because i didn't logout.) After i type my gmail and password, then it says my account has been suspended for “unusual activity”. It provides me a option to type my phone number, so Google will send me a text message and i can verify that. I was reluctant in giving my phone number, and there wasn't other options. After about 10 min reading about Google help, i did, and things went normal again.

I am quite unhappy about this. When i checked my Google blogger stats, i realized that Google had shut down my blogger as well, because the stat were flat in the duration. And, i think this also means that Google had shut down all Google services that are associated with my account. For example, AdSense, Analytics, etc. I couldn't verify this in Analytics because i'm not sure there's a way to show stat by hours.

If i wasn't able to resolve this shut down problem, it's gonna be a huge headache. If my Google account were gone, that means i have to change my email address from some 10 other services (e.g. banks, etc.) that i have to spend hours to figure out. I have to notify friends or any business associates about email change. This also means, during the time when my account is shut, my AdSense is dead, Google Analytics is dead. I don't know if during the time email send to my gmail account (xahlee @ gmail.com) were bounced.

Most importantly, but luckily, i have a backup copy of my emails on my PC, because i've set up IMAP so i get a copy of my emails on my PC. [see How to Download All Your Emails in Gmail?]

This is really not cool. Also, Google now knows my mobile phone too. There doesn't seem any option other than entering your phone number. I usually don't even have a phone number. My mobile phone happened to working. (I don't use phone much. It's pay-as-you-go phone. It expires in about 2 days.)

What are the “Unusual Activities”?

Here is one of the Google's help page about locked account i found now: http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=43692. (i don't think it's the same page i saw linked from the from the Account Disabled notification page.) Here's a quote:

Unusual account activity includes, but is not limited to:

If you go to http://mail.google.com/support/ and search for “account disabled” or “account locked”, you get many results. Apparently, many people have experienced this. (it shoud be noted that some of them might actually be spammers).

I don't know what might be the “unusual activity” that Google detected. Possibly someone else broke my account and did bad things. Though i don't have reason to think that was true. The only thing i can think of, is that yesterday i posted a message to comp.lang.python, which contained 5 links to my website xahlee.org about keyboard and Unicode issues. I suspect perhaps more than 1 person may have flagged my post as spam. The post is here: Source groups.google.com. Though, my post isn't flame or in bad netiquette, so i'm not sure it's the cause.

Check Who Accessed Your Gmail

Gmail has a feature that lets you view the IP address and location of your past access. It's at the bottom, that says “Last account activity: … Details”. Click on the “Details”. Though, it seems only to track 4 hours back (or just last 10 access). By now, it's about 8 hours from the time my account is re-opened, so it's too late to use it to check if anyone is accessing my account from another IP address. I wished i've done this earlier.

Why is Google Asking for My Phone Number?

Here is a post from Google on this: Why is Google asking for my phone number? By Mike CH. @ Source www.google.com. Some quote:

Why does Google ask for this?

It is an anti-spam system. Here's how it works.

Each phone number can be used to re-activate accounts a small count of times before it won't be accepted anymore, and each Gmail account can send to a limited number of recipients every day.

Because most people don't buy things from spammers, they need to work with lots of accounts in order to send enough email to make money. If we think an account might be being used by a spammer, we lock it until the owner provides a phone number. So, spammers need to have access to a large quantity of phone numbers to unlock all their accounts. This is very expensive for them but pretty easy for most regular people. In most cases it is expensive enough for the spammer that it becomes unprofitable for them to spam, so they give up.

I don't want to provide my phone number, that's personal.

You can provide any phone number that has not been "used up". It does not have to be your own. Even payphones can work.

I don't want to provide any phone number at all.

You can follow the instructions on the verification page to contact support. However it may take us some time to get to your ticket, as these cases are lower priority than people who have been genuinely locked out without any way back in. We strongly encourage you to go through the phone verification process - many people have already done it, and we keep the numbers used private.

WARNING: If you got a EMAIL telling you your account is GOING TO BE locked and asking you for password, that is SCAM, not from Google.

I just changed my password. I hope this doesn't happen again.

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