Google Cloud investigates automated customer service practices after complaint


Google Cloud Platform has announced that it will conduct a detailed review of its abuse prevention processes after a customer complained about its treatment. The unnamed customer, who works in the renewable energy industry, wrote in a post on Medium that the company was a few days away from “losing everything” after Google’s automated system pinged it for questionable activity.

The Process to Regain Access

Those who get pinged will receive a range of emails or a “barrage” as the customer puts it. These emails detail that each service is down, the payments account is temporarily closed and what they need to do to fix the situation. Chat support is switched off, with a warning that unless a picture of the credit card and a government-issued photo ID of the cardholder is uploaded within three days, they will lose their project. The customer warned about the consequences if the cardholder was unavailable, and around the automated nature of the system.

“I understand Google’s need to monitor and prevent suspicious activity. But how you handle things after some suspicious activity is detected matters a lot,” the post explains. “You need a human element here – one that cannot be replaced by any amount of code/AI. You just can’t turn things off and then ask for an explanation.”

A Response from Google

According to a statement posted by Brian Bender, Google Cloud Platform engineering support regional lead, Google claims it will be re-evaluating data sources used to assess potential fraudulent activity, implementing additional mechanisms for suspect accounts and improve how it communicates account warnings.

“Protecting our customers and systems are a top priority,” the statement added. “We sincerely apologise for this issue and are working quickly to make things better, not just for this customer but for all GCP customers.”

Where Google Cloud Differs from Others

Given the rise in Google’s cloud infrastructure arena over the last 12 months (the company was listed in the leaders’ section for public cloud IaaS by Gartner in May) it is interesting to make note of the fact that, for this particular customer, this was the first project they had built entirely on Google’s cloud. Previously, the customer was an AWS house; and while there no technical reasons behind the change – the customer believed they are “on-par” with one another – there was a note on the difference in customer experience.

“In our experience, AWS handles billing issues in a much more humane way,” the customer explained. “They warn you about suspicious activity and give you time to explain and sort things out. They don’t kick you down the stairs.”

Other issues were addressed and sorted. Mike Kahn, Google Cloud customer engineer, made a note regarding the importance of having an enterprise user account as opposed to a consumer one. However, another commenter described this approach as having “borderline contempt” for customers.

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