Google Cloud investigates automated customer service practices after complaint

Google Cloud Platform has said 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 Medium post that the company was a few days away from ‘losing everything’ after Google’s automated system pinged it for questionable activity.

Those who get pinged will receive a variety of emails – a ‘barrage’, as the customer put it – detailing that each service is down, the payments account is temporarily closed, and what needs to be done about it. Chat support is switched off, with a warning that unless a picture of the credit card and a government-issued photo ID of the card holder is uploaded within three days, the project will be deleted.

The customer warned about the consequences if the card holder – in this instance, the CFO – was not available, 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.”

In a statement, posted by Brian Bender, Google Cloud Platform engineering support regional lead, Google said 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.”

Given Google’s rise in the cloud infrastructure arena over the past 12 months – the company was listed in the leaders’ section for public cloud IaaS by Gartner in May – it is interesting to note that, for this particular customer, this was the first project built by them entirely on Google’s cloud. The customer was previously an AWS house; and while there was no technical reason cited for the change – both are ‘on-par’, as the customer put it – there was a note on the differing customer experiences.

“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 sorted. Mike Kahn, Google Cloud customer engineer, noted the importance of having an enterprise user account rather than a consumer one - yet another commenter described this approach as having 'borderline contempt' for customers.

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