In this scenario it seems pretty obvious that their automated fraud AI messed up, but the customer service person is probably also automated. They have so many people working on insane moonshots, but don't spend money for customer service for their core products (in this case people literally trying to give you money!). Just bizarre.
Really, any respectable company in this situation would simply flag the account for a billing problem, deny the card, and let the customer try again. At which point, any legitimate customer will go, "Oh, guess they don't take Apple Card" and use something else. It's the same effect (account can't be used, "fraud" with the Apple Card if it exists is dodged) but is not nearly so user hostile as this... mess.
Google's opacity here seems like it could only really have one benefit to the company: They can shut down any account they don't like, and since they're always vague with the reasoning, they don't necessarily have to have a valid reason. Their whole "you know what you did" approach is just uncertain enough to cause the victim to doubt themselves and be unlikely to mount a defense. I don't know what their actual motivations are (I know it's popular to hate on Google, but I have a hard time believing they're pulling stunts like this on purpose) but it looks bad no matter how you slice it.
I ran into a very similar situation with my gas company. I'd fat-fingered my bank account number in their online form, so they weren't able to debit my account. Instead of notifying me of this problem, they simply locked my account and threatened to cut me off for non-payment. Even after I'd called the company and appealed, they still prevented me from paying with my bank account for 12 months and forced me to pay with a credit card (which incurred an additional $3.75 "convenience fee").
For large companies, I would almost go so far as to propose that one should "never attribute to stupidity what can adequately be explained by malice."
I have no opinion about this particular instance. I just find that HN tends to bring up Hanlon's Razor a lot in defense of corporations.
No they don't. It would be fine for everyone if instead one of being one of the richest companies in existence they would only make the top 10.
The real issue is that too many people are depending on advertising to support their business plan instead of the tried and true - making a product that people are willing to give you money for.
Sadly, that power clustered towards Google with no oversight whatsoever.
Google will continue to be opaque unless they have oversight/regulations. Something I imagine they spend quite a bit* to prevent in any way possible.
I have a problem with a business plan that bases your entire revenue stream on Google ads.
> but on the other hand them sending anyone to court will also cost them extraordinary amount of money
Alphabet has $117 billion cash on hand, they can handle the cost. In fact, they can handle the cost of a scorched earth defense more easily than the cost of getting a reputation for rolling over everytime someone waves the threat of a small claims action.
> so I imagine before they accept any such legal challenge they would ask the CS department to actually have a look at the case first.
More likely, once they get that kind of letter, the legal department will probe the CS records of related to the issue to determine the legal position. They might then suggest just giving you want you want, or they might then send you a nice letter from their attorney about how they are prepared to make a claim for (e.g.) civil fraud for the deceptive action that they were previously willing to leave with an account termination, and that if they do so it will far exceed the small claims limit and they will use that counterclaim to move to transfer your case out of small claims.
Here's the issue. From my perspective, Google used to be a respectable company, but through automation of customer handling and service they've elected to accept negative consequences and impact for customers - which isn't a very respectable position to take in my book.
For non-negligible damages, heading immediately to small claims court (given you live in a sensible jurisdiction) seems to be the easiest thing in that case. Even if Google's ultimately in the right, they typically can't just ignore that entirely.
From a decade ago:
Google presumably hasn't signed a long-term contract with you to provide any services or continue a business relationship.
Is "We don't want to do business with you any more because our algorithm isn't smart enough to differentiate what you're doing for fraud" actionable?
Well, that really depends on the case and jurisdiction, I can't answer that for you. Really, the key part is to force Google to actually provide reasoning for their actions, as they eventually did in the case I edited in links for.
I get the desire to impose costs on Google for their bad actions, but this doesn't seem like a very productive plan.
It's not as simple as "Google can cut you off no questions asked whenever they feel like it"
Are you sure about that? Often such terms are built into the user agreements.
I suppose there are a couple of issues that haven't been tested in court.
But besides that, anything you paid and wasn't rendered as services needs to be refunded. It doesn't look like they refund it most times, no?
Gmail for Android has 2 core functions: to send and to receive mail. It fails at one of them. (Emails get stuck in its outbox indefinitely - you can force it to send by going into the "outbox" and dragging down to refresh, which is an action that has no button to show it is possible. There is no notification that your mail wasn't sent.)
Here is a thread about it:
How is it possible for an app that has 2 functions, to fail to do one of them?
This is like a salt and pepper set where the pepper side has no holes - the pepper is stuck inside. (You can unscrew the top and manually shake some out though.) Sure salt is more common. But it's literally a salt and pepper set that only functions as a salt shaker.
Gmail for android is literally a mail sending and receiving app that can't send mail.
How can this happen? I mean literally, how is the support thread I linked possible?
If I were the CEO and I saw a thread like that, the issue would be fixed within 7 minutes, as every person within earshot of me rushed to make themselves look good to me.
How is Google's CEO different?
You assumption is that the app has two functions functions: sending and receiving email.
It actually only has one function, put eyes in front of ads.
Besides, it does appear to be a corner case. It has ~200 upvotes. Gmail has 1.5 billion users.
That's 1 in 7,500,000.
If every single one of them quits using Gmail, and they tell all of their friends, and all of their friends quit using Gmail, Google will still be able to tell their paying customers that those ads reach 1.5 billion users.
A single quora answer alone has 20k views. Do you think that's a normal number of views on a quora answer? How many views do you think that quora answer should have for you to think it's a problem? 200k? 2m? 20m? 200m? 2b?
(A single quora answer does not represent everyone who has a problem. Maybe 0.01% of people with a specific problem will end up reading a specific quora answer. So I think that 20k represents 200 million users, or more than 10% of Gmail's userbase. While we're just throwing around made up numbers. Maybe it's 100% of installed gmail for android apps with that problem. (Since not every gmail user uses android, uses the android app, and uses it to send mail.)
Anyway I think up to 100% of the android app users could be affected.
Still, you answered the question: perhaps the development team doesn't feel that 20,000 reports is a priority. Maybe the salt and pepper manufacturer doesn't care that every one of their pepper shakers doesn't let peppers out. 20,000 complaints just don't matter.
Important people use iPhone anyway.
There isn't a week that goes by without that exact same story repeating itself.
> I make my income primarily through AdSense and live in fear of that email one day.
Maybe you could prepare for this by writing an angry blogpost ahead of time, to get it out of your system?
"Oh, sorry your main method of making money was terminated, we won't tell you why or how we came to that conclusion - must have been the algorithm, sorry!"
What's that old saying - "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity"?
I'm starting to think that these massive companies aren't stupid and that they're actually designing their algorithms behind this and using it as a scapegoat to push their own agenda.
I use the live business support plan all of the time as an “easy button”. Some of the issues they have helped us out with in the past.
- a cross account CodePipeline using CodeBuild and CloudFormation (you cant do it through the UI)
- configuration issues with lambda, API Gateway, and binary transfers.
- Python/Boto3/DynamoDB and DAX coding issues
- various weird CloudFormation issues.
- Parameter Store/CloudFormation throttling issues (ie use DependsOn to force CF to create Parameter Store resources serially)
Amazon isn't a silicon valley company, perhaps that's why its support isn't as horrible.
Ah, but is it really obvious? One of the benefits of virtual card numbers, in particular the Apple Card implementation, is that it's easy to switch them out, which makes tracking harder.
Could it be that a company that makes its living off tracking users would not be overly fond of virtual card numbers? As long as users' reaction is "if you're planning on using the Apple Card for anything important, think again", it looks like the AI did exactly what it was meant to do.
Others within last 30 days:
Premium support in Google only exists to make sure your have paid them. They will ban your account after you have paid them. They usually want till your payment is cleared and then ban you.
My colleague's play account was banned because he used PayPal not Google wallet, when it was launched
But really, humans are happy to do it to each other.
It makes sense I guess as those sci-fi AIs are often to some extent or another trying to save us from, other humans, or at least that was their origin.
Fortunately I’d worked with FB before for major brands, so I knew the email to send to to get a real person. There is almost always a monitored email address for accounts receivable, and if you email them pretending like you are having trouble making a large payment, someone will respond. When they think it’s a fat check, suddenly “this decision is final” is just a mistake.
Perhaps you should change this? If you're aware your entire livelihood is a game of Russian roulette, you should maybe work on making it something else.
when you associate to any extent with a monopolyform, you must understand that at any point, the owner can absolutely annihilate you. that's the game, and those complaining post facto about how it's not fair should consider that those were always the rules, and complaining after getting bumped off is certainly understandable but that outcome should have always been a part of one's expected risks and possible outcomes.
I feel like if you get your traffic from a source and also sell on that platform at some point the company sees you are successful and cuts you out. We see it with google search result taking content and presenting it at the top. Or Amazon scanning for profitable niches on the platform and pushing their own product.
My favorite so far is Google threatening to take away my primary source of income because my site has content related to pirated software.
Google is correct! My site is a dictionary, and it has the temerity to define the term “warez”.
We've been saying Google does this, Google does that. The thing is, a company is composed of its people.
I am just curious, how does something like this, something most people with reasonable sense of "fairness" would flag as concerning and potentially very wrong, comes to be implemented? Even more so for a large company like Google? (smaller companies can have a "bad dictator boss" which can push this through without issue)
Policies like these, which appear to have consistencies across their products, how far up does the chain of responsibility go? How does stuff like these occur?
Does it start with some MBA grad who comes in, gets assigned a KPI to "cut costs" and then their natural bias is that customer service is the first to go, proposes it to their managers and it bubbles up for approval and implementation? All the while everyone at each level is oblivious to the potentially damaging collateral the policy would cause, but only think that "oh this is a great move, we would save a bunch!" and then finally gets implemented?
Or would this more be a top-down thing where executives discuss and push this and then the employees, being good people at heart have no choice but to implement it?
I just find it so difficult to imagine something like this being OK-ed by all the people involved within the company. Like, is everyone "in on it"? Or do they not know? Or they know but can't/unwilling to say anything?
Before you disagree, ask yourself, would you know if they were(n't)?
Its also almost certainly completely fake as they're done nothing of the sort. I'd be shocked if it wasn't as automatic as an away message.
Since this is HN, which (at least used to) primarily cater to the startup crowd, I hope it goes without saying that Google does not fix this issue because they don't have a financial incentive to do so. This is basic capitalism at play, and what you as a developer/advertiser/user need to do is use and pay for competing products if you're not happy about the status quo.
On one hand, in the online ads biz, Google is king and is happy to outsource its customer support for its most premium customers both large network of agencies and advertisers. I know it quite well, I was one of those guys for Doubleclick many moons ago. That is if you are big enough to be worthy of being a Google (DC) customer in the first place, which means, you have to be a large spender.
But on the other hand, if you sign up for their Google Cloud thing despite being a nobody (me again), you'll have their sales folks hounding you for an upsell, mostly because GCloud is ridiculously behind both AWS and Azure.
Funny how it goes.
It would be except you and other are still using their services.
Big client won't get banned - and if they do, they have also a non-public phone number to an account manager to make things right again too.
Sadly this is a common trend - e.g. with ISPs it is almost impossible to find a contact to an actual person, only some online chats or automated hotline that will waste your time with canned responses not solving your problem.
What ISP are you talking about? I've never had trouble getting a real person with Verizon, CenturyLink, or ATT. You might have to wait on hold for a few dozen minutes, but that's a separate issue.
Google is well known for terrible customer support. And if you think of it, it makes sense. After all, if you can server 100M users via an automated support systems and only 0.01% have issues a year, it's probably far, far cheaper to just drop those "problem" users, than hire thousands of customer support persons.
Note: just threw the above numbers out, but you get the gist.
Speaking of algorithms, I wonder if the OP was below some adsense fiscal threshold of 'it's worth it to intercede here with a level 4 manager' or some blather.
Apple does that too . I assume it's to prevent a DoS from fraudsters. (Obviously, it's a problem for legitimate users)
That human being even went to bat for the user and tried to convince corporate that buying the fraudulent gift card had been an honest mistake in trusting the wrong seller and not intentional fraud.
This seems like quite a different experience from "you are banned for life and we won't even talk to you or tell you why".
> This Senior Agent #2 was not as supportive as the first, and gave me information that contradicted Senior Agent #1: “Your account has been permanently disabled,” he said. “There is nothing else you can do, there is no escalation path.”
> When I asked for an explanation as to why, all he would say is, “See the terms and conditions.”
Ultimately, the author was able to get out of that dead-end, but it sounded awfully close.
This is significantly different than "we won't tell you what the issue is and we won't even accept communications from you".
I understand that laws are different around the world. In Italy, whatever is defined as a "public exercise" - anything offering its services to the anybody, be it a shop, a store, a cafè, a restaurant, MUST offer those services to anybody who a) can pay and b) satisfies any global and well-expressed condition (e.g. more than 18 years old, properly dressed, etc). You cannot just deny service to a random customer without a VERY GOOD reason. If you want to serve members only, you can build your private club. Then you're able to do almost whatever you like, but you cannot advertise or promote your activities to non-members.
I suppose US law is different, although I think to remember that there're some rules against discrimination. Either the service is available to anyone, or to noone. If some infringement happens, it must be explicit and there must be the chance to appeal to a judge. Otherwise, how can this be non-discriminatory?
Sure, but one thing is:
"Sorry, I cannot accept Discover, do you happen to have another means of payment?"
and another one is:
"Sorry, I cannot accept Discover, and since you presented one of those cards to me once, then you are prevented for the rest of your life to enter these premises again".
In this case, Google is effectively a monopoly/2Big2Fail in advertising. So that remedy is not available or is impractical.
So the issue is not necessarily the behaviors (while reprehensible) but the size of the company.
"Sorry, I cannot accept this bill, and since you presented counterfeit money to me once, then you are prevented for the rest of your life to enter these premises again".
I'm not saying this is right, but I think it's the more apt analogy.
The customer would be arrested by the police, then he/she would be subject to a trial and IF actually found guilty would be sentenced to - say - six months of jail.
If he/she had actually killed someone, then he/she would probably get thirty years or a life sentence.
But here we are still talking about someone who (BTW presumably in good faith) presented the "wrong" piece of paper (a fake bill that he maybe got as change from another restaurant) at the counter of your restaurant to pay the bill, and that was (again presumably) ready to give you another "good" banknote to pay for the service.
I don't think (actually hope) the restaurant owner would call the police for this.
Btw, I'm not saying it's illegal. I'm saying it SHOULD be illegal.
Your local grocery store has far better customer service than this despite razor-thin margins. Payment problems? They’ll work with you. Product is bad? Refund. Sale not ringing through properly? They’ll fix it. Surely Google can afford to have some actual people to help you when you have problems.
But that's explicit and the same for everybody. If you accepted Discover from somebody and not from somebody else, THAT would be discrimination.
Discriminating the credit card somebody is using without telling anybody... well, could still be discrimination. Younger people could be more prone to use an Apple card, couldn't them? Can you demonstrate the "feature" you're discriminating about can't be tied to age, race, gender, etc?
> But that's explicit and the same for everybody. If you accepted Discover from somebody and not from somebody else, THAT would be discrimination.
> Discriminating the credit card somebody is using without telling anybody... well, could still be discrimination. Younger people could be more prone to use an Apple card, couldn't them? Can you demonstrate the "feature" you're discriminating about can't be tied to age, race, gender, etc?
FYI discriminating against people on the basis of age is not illegal when applied to youth, at least in the United States. This is obviously the case as we use age as a gate for many privileges.
Assuming you can create infinite virtual numbers you could, theoretically (and I appreciate it's probably not the case here as the poster has account history), switch/cloak/whatever a whole bunch of high converting against policy stuff until the account is banned, at which point you set up a new ad account, new virtual number and start again. Rinse and repeat.
Seems a simpler method to tackle that by just banning virtual cards with the assumption "if you have nothing to hide you'll use a fixed number".
I'm not sure you do? Because virtual cards are credit cards, afaik they're exclusively credit card linked, or at least bank account linked through a debit card type system. You need to have a standard card/account to get one (and at least in America getting a credit card is utterly trivial though it may not be a good one granted) and have identity.
>Assuming you can create infinite virtual numbers you could, theoretically (and I appreciate it's probably not the case here as the poster has account history), switch/cloak/whatever a whole bunch of high converting against policy stuff until the account is banned, at which point you set up a new ad account, new virtual number and start again. Rinse and repeat.
Virtual credit cards are still linked to you. Your name and mailing address and whatever else is required for normal credit card validation is still required. They're not a tool for anonymity, they're exclusively for dealing with issues on the seller side (ie., they get hacked, or are fraudsters).
>"if you have nothing to hide you'll use a fixed number".
But literally everyone does have something to hide: their fixed credit card number/crc/date, since that is an irritation to deal with if it gets stolen. It's not a public key unfortunately. Virtual CCs are a hack essentially to help bring some of the benefits of a more modern system that was fully tokenized (like Apple Pay and co) or used proper asymmetric crypto to legacy systems, at the cost of forcing more manual effort by the user. It's in the same bucket as password managers, ideally password auth would have long since ceased to exist, but in the mean time password managers help a bit with the garbage fire of the current authentication world.
As in, I get why Google might want to not allow them, I'm not arguing the concept of them in general. As for the pain side - it's comparatively hard to get an actual, physical credit card with a new number if you're burning through one every week by getting your ad account blocked.
> Virtual credit cards are still linked to you.
No, not necessarily. Google "anonymous virtual credit card" - takes about 10 seconds to find one offering "Any name, any address, NO ID Virtual credit card". I'm not arguing there's zero trail - but if you wanted to run a bunch of shady ads, this would be a pretty good starting point.
> But literally everyone does have something to hide
Definitely not arguing this, I completely agree. I'm not saying Google are right, I'm not saying the system isn't stupid. And as someone who's had their card cloned multiple times, I understand how much it sucks and how nice it would have been to have had a virtual number.
The point in my original post was simply that I'd guess a whole bunch of the ad fraud / spam ads / cloaked ads come from virtual credit card numbers. Again, I have absolutely no idea, but I imagine thats a big and painful problem for Google. Prior to the Apple Card, I think it's safe to say the bulk of credit card users weren't using virtual numbers. I'm guessing someone in an office at Google said "if we ban accounts using virtual CCs we'll cut fraud by X%" and the small amount of false positives probably make that worth it - how many of their large spenders use virtual card? And if they do they probably have their own rep. Hence the problem in the original article.
Two reasons I can imagine:
- Each transaction uses a different card number, this is suspicious for multiple transactions on an account
- Approval requires user confirmation on their phone, thus takes longer than usual
It's one of the biggest issues of the modern Internet that affect us: relatively rich, privileged people engaged in business primarily on the Internet. It's one of the smaller issues for most of the users of the Internet, who have much more significant problems, like governments spying on their Internet use, governments blocking big sections of the Internet, corporate monopolies making only certain parts of the Internet free and others prohibitively expensive, fraud, and all sorts of other problems.
Isn't Google Ads kind of that already? You need to get approval to create your campaigns, and you have to provide all of your information in order to post ads?
That was the final line in the article, but from reading the rest of the article, it seems like the overarching problem was not the Apple Card, or the idea of virtual CC numbers... but more that time and time again, Google will shut down your [YouTube|Gmail|Ads|Cloud|anything] account with little or no notice, and arbitrary, non-contestable rulings, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it after the fact.
I was nervous about staking anything financially important in the Google ecosystem, but after seeing this kind of post every week, there's no way I would tie any important business venture into Google's ecosystem.
They are at fault here, not Apple.
Now, having said all of this - I do NOT accuse author of anything, their story may be true, it actually sounds plausible. I'd just like to remind you of another google ban story  that made headlines some time ago and was later debunked by Google.
As I read OP, I wondered what I'd do. I guess I'd have to write it up on my mostly empty, pretty much dead blog. It would look weird and out of place on my mostly empty blog.
Then I look to the comments and see you calling them out for doing what I was just thinking I'd have to do.
Yup, 'debunk' is probably not the best word here. English is not my native tongue, I apologize. What I meant is that a different opinion was presented by Google. But you're right - it's still one word vs another, it's impossible to determine who is telling the truth.
I read it as confirmation that Google would do well to focus on customer service for once.
What's easier? Changing Google, or spending all of your time constantly worrying that your entire business could be disrupted or destroyed at random?
You can't look at it as one isolated event with one isolated solution; the takeaway is, "even innocuous, good-faith 'mistakes' might be enough for Google to randomly shut me down with no explanation and no recourse." There's no way to guard against that except to stop using Google.
E: Yes, I read the article.
In addition to regular credit cards, you can also use a one-time use credit card (also known as virtual credit card). It's commonly used as an alternative to physical credit cards when making online payments. Google Ads accepts these credit cards as long as they have a Visa or MasterCard logo. If you don't have a physical credit card, contact your bank to see if they offer them.
Steps to use a one-time use credit card:
Sign in to your Google Ads account at https://ads.google.com.
Click the tool icon and choose Billing & payments. Go there now
Click the Make a payment button.
Click the "Pay with" drop-down and choose Add new payment method, then enter your one-time use credit card information.
Enter the amount you'd like to make a payment for, then click the Make a payment button to review and finish your payment. Be sure to include $1 more than your payment amount for card verification.
That seems like something that could be easily missed
My bank lets me create infinite "throwaway" credit cards that work for a single payment or up to a certain expiry date. They're great for never having to expose your real card number and keeping track of maximum spend. Are these classified as virtual cards? I use them all the time for Facebook ads and was planning to set up a AdWords campaign too, but now I'm worried
For example, if you rent something, the credit card is used as a guarantee that you will return the item. If you don't, they can charge the card for the full price.
If you use virtual cards, they can't do that.
(Also, in many cases the potential ex-post charges are unknown and theoretically unlimited at the time of purchase, think e.g. of a car rental company wanting to charge you for your speeding tickets.)
> I offered [to] set my primary payment method back to the previous card.
This is, to me, the most infuriating part: account is blackholed at the first misstep, that you cannot even guess, with no possible redemption, and with damages far beyond the initial misstep scope: if you use the same account, payment issue on google ads, your photos are inaccessible. How does that even make sense?
They view losing this customer and all potential related profits, forever, as significantly cheaper than accountability and reasonability at their scale.
Odds are this guy would've been banned no matter which card he switched to.
Given that smartprivacy pushes VPN stuff I wouldn't be surprised if this guy had been using a VPN to log into his Ads account, which would be a sure way to get your account fucked.
First, this seems a bit histrionic. That's a wide claim to make with a sample size of one.
Second, the entire idea that the author was banned for using a virtual card comes from a friend who spoke to another friend who allegedly works as an "account manager" (presumably at Google?), who themselves admit they can't even see into the process.
That would be my best guess.
Fixed that for you.
Ironically, you could make the case that Google itself fits this description.
(Bias note: I am employed by Amazon, but not involved in ads.)
Google make a lot of their money from online advertising. But they have a reputation of not giving a shit about their customers, giving canned responses, etc. Amazon, criticize it as you will, has a reputation for good customer service (I literally give "Customer Obsession" training to new hires). What happens if enough Google ads customers get fed up and try out the competitor?
20 years ago, Google found a hose that money pours out of called "online advertising". All they do now is improve that hose and desperately search for another one. If someone comes along and siphons out a fraction, it could actually hit them hard.
"If", of course. We'll see.
Isn’t the better conclusion after almost a decade of people dealing with Google’s customer “service” and reading about how non responsive they are is not to base your livelihood on anything Google related?
If your business plan is at all depending on Google, it’s probably a bad one.
There really should be a catchy term for this sort of algorithmically generated deplatforming.
> After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the number that is generated in the wallet app (the only way you can get your card number for the Apple Card) is, infact, a virtual card.
This seems like the likely cause.
Credit cards and debit cards -> Make a payment with a one-time use credit card
>In addition to regular credit cards, you can also use a one-time use credit card (also known as virtual credit card). It's commonly used as an alternative to physical credit cards when making online payments.
You are a consumer, buying their wares, and they could care less because you really only have one option. They made sure of it by buying most of the significant competition years ago.
Welcome to the modern era of internet monopolies.
> And if you're planning on using the Apple Card for anything important, think again.
Using virtual cards is a perfectly legitimate activity. I'm a client of a top-tier bank in Europe and they always recommend to use a virtual card (they would ask if you'd like them to issue) for everything online. This doesn't seem like an Apple's fault (although it would be nice of Apple to clearly inform you the card is virtual). Google should be sued for this.
Google, Facebook, etc need to be regulated.
They only pick up the phone if you are a paying customer. If your payment isn't working you can go fuck yourself.
I know, a common mistake.
Seriously though, this is also the case with using their phone service, or any other account. If your payment ever bounces, you lose EVERYTHING.
I noticed that the site has reviews of anti-tracking products like Ghostery and Privacy Badger. (The reviews are a bit thin in my opinion.) Google may view those as existential threats and work to remove that material from the web.
new payment tech will have a similar uphill battle to get people to treat them equally