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Why You Should Diversify Your Digital Life

One week ago today, I received a terrifying E-mail: my Google Account was being suspended. 

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There was nothing to go on other than the very generic “because of a violation of our Terms of Service.”

Just to give you an idea of the panic I immediately felt: my life is on Google.  Photos of the births of my children are on there (and only on there).  Contact information for my various clients and associates exists only on there.  I keep most of my important documents in Google Drive, and only on Google Drive.  All of my other online services and accounts are linked to this account.

My Google Account is my digital life.

So, panicking more than a bit, I appealed, and soon found that most of my Google services were seemingly reinstated, but not my YouTube account!

Shortly after that, I received this E-mail:

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Again, no specific indication of what I did wrong.  Just “Nope, you’re still suspended!”  I E-mailed them back asking for more information.  I received a reply about 24 hours later:

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“Wait a second, Matt!  You pasted the wrong image!”  No, I did not!  They sent me the same E-mail in reply to my question about what specifically I had done wrong.

Obviously I was getting no where going this route, and I was gaining a whole new respect for all the people that have had to fight YouTube’s horrendous support in the past. 

Fortunately for me, I had very few YouTube videos.  I had a handful of tutorial videos for things like SpecsFor, then a few promo videos I had recorded for my Pluralsight courses.   For anyone that isn’t familiar with how that works, Pluralsight allows me to post approved excerpts from my courses on sites like YouTube.  I deduced that it had to be related to those promo videos.  

So, I reached out to Pluralsight, and they were infinitely more helpful than YouTube.  They quickly contacted their anti-piracy firm, and we figured out that the firm had indeed flagged my videos.  It turns out my YouTube display name was “MattTCF.”  I guess I set that back up a long time ago, before YouTube and Google accounts were linked, and I never updated it.  Because the name “MattTCF” didn’t match my author name, the anti-piracy firm flagged the content, and that resulted in my digital life being suspended.

The claims were quickly withdrawn, and YouTube *finally* reinstated my account.  But there was still no communication from YouTube about what happened, why I was banned, or why I was being reinstated.  Just this little customer service “gem”:

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I have lost a ton of respect for Google as a whole after this fiasco, but it did teach me an important lesson: just because your data is in the cloud doesn’t mean your data is safe.  You still need diversified backups, otherwise you are still waiting for a single point of failure to take everything down.  In my case, that single point of failure was almost YouTube.  I’m in the process of diversifying my accounts and data with other, non-Google services. 

As I mentioned, I gained a ton of respect for the content creators that have found themselves in similar situations with YouTube.  This form of “support” is simply unacceptable, especially from a company like Google.  They do so many things so well…  I expect more from them than this. 

At a minimum, even if I had legitimately infringed someone’s copyright, or violated some other guideline, I should have been told specifically what I did wrong.  I should have been given some avenue to have a meaningful appeal of the decision.   I’m lucky that I was able to resolve this without their help, otherwise I have no doubt I would still be suspended.

I’m hoping that getting this story out there as yet another example of their failed policies might help persuade them to make some improvements.  Please spread the word, and support others that have found themselves in similar situations.

tl;dr: Got my account banned for an incorrect copyright claim.  YouTube support was completely unhelpful.  Still had a happy-ish ending.

About Matt Honeycutt...

Matt Honeycutt is a software architect specializing in ASP.NET web applications, particularly ASP.NET MVC. He has over a decade of experience in building (and testing!) web applications. He’s an avid practitioner of Test-Driven Development, creating both the SpecsFor and SpecsFor.Mvc frameworks.

He's also an author for Pluralsight, where he publishes courses on everything from web applications to testing!

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