I used to think of Google as my friend. It answered questions, connected me with the larger world, and gave me great systems for organizing my life.

That was last week.

Then, I went to visit my daughter in Vermont. Before leaving home, I completed last week’s “Letter from Away” and set it up to publish Aug. 7 at noon. My daughter and I spent that Saturday at a festival, and when we got back to the cabin, I used their desktop computer to access my email contacts and send out the weekly message to those who ask to be notified when a new column has posted.

When I tried to check my email to see if it had really been sent, my friend Google told me I used an unrecognized computer, and needed to re-validate access to my account. Because the system seemed to need reassurance. Because my virtual security is more important to my friend Google than it is to me.

I complied with the request and typed in my address, entered the password and was asked for a phone number for “two-step verification.”

When I typed my phone number and hit “enter” a window popped into the middle of my screen.

“To help keep your account secure, Google needs to verify it’s you. Please sign in again to continue.”

I never asked Google to keep my account secure, but okay. I clicked on “Next” and got this:

“To continue, first verify it’s you.”

In a bright blue box: “Enter your password.”

Okay. I did that, and clicked on the “Next” button, and got this redundant message.

“We noticed unusual activity in your Google Account. To keep your account safe, you were signed out. To continue, you’ll need to verify it’s you, (and in blue letters), Learn More.”

I thought I might need to learn more about this situation. I had a feeling there was a magic key hidden somewhere in this game, and could not risk leaving any digital stone unturned. I opened the link in a new window, so as not to lose my path.

“Investigate suspicious activity on your account”

… the headline read. The rest was a bunch of stuff about what sorts of heinous activity others might be performing in my Google account and how to respond. But I knew no one else signed into my account, so I returned to my previous screen and clicked on the blue button that said “Continue.”

“Enter the last password you remember using with this Google Account”

At this point, I noticed two things: Google is inconsistent in its use of periods at the ends of sentences, and they always capitalize Google Account. I distinctly remembered typing my password into this conversation earlier, but okay. I properly filled out the blue box that told me to…

“Enter last password”

… and clicked on “Next.” A new pop-up told me Google detected unusual activity, and asked for a phone number so it could send me a code to use to get into my own email. I put in my only phone number and clicked another blue button, this one reading…

“Get code”

The next screen looked almost exactly like its predecessor, with these words added in red.

This phone number has already been used too many times for verification.

And at the bottom:

“If you’re having trouble receiving a verification code, learn more about your support options.” (that last part in blue)

Since then, I’ve tried using friends’ phones, putting in my other email address and crying. I went into chats and found a form to fill out and something called the Google Support Team has promised to get back to me.

Today, I typed a new search into Google, asking for: ‘google support team telephone number.’

I found an expired phone number and a lot of links that were not sourced at Google. I found one link, about halfway down the page. (You’d think they would put their own link at the top of their own search page, wouldn’t you?) That link took me to:

“Hi, how can we help?”

Help & Support

“Have questions or need to report an issue with a Google product or service? We’ve got you covered.”

The blue button said, “Get support” so I clicked on it and got a bright blue

“How can we help you?”

Here’s what I wrote in the search bar provided

“I am a columnist, writing about the inability to access my email account due to Google’s absurd and impractical emphasis on email security. I accessed my account from my daughter’s computer Aug. 7, four days ago. The next time I went to my email, about 10 minutes later, you had locked me out. I have given you my only phone number, my daughter’s phone number, her housemate’s phone number and my ex-husband’s phone number.

“Each time, I receive the message that the number has been used already, too many times. I gave you an alternate email address and typed in the code, and was again asked for a phone number. I filled out a form someone posted in a chat, and got an email at my alternate address telling me you’d get back to me in 3–5 days. Please let me in to my account.”

Having gotten that out of my system and received the same page over again as my reward, I cleared the box and retyped just the last sentence, and the next thing I saw was a page listing all sorts of ways you can have trouble getting onto your account. I typed:

“I think I’m using the correct email and password, but still can’t sign in.”

So here I stand, asking my readers for advice, even though I can’t access the email group contact list that lets you all know I’ve written this. Perhaps it’s my reward for dropping out of FaceBoss; maybe we really have just overloaded the internet; it’s possible the uber-geeks really think they know what’s best for me.

Whatever the mechanism that locked me out of my online communication and filing system, there does not appear to be a magic key. The humans at Google abnegated their power and responsibility and left it to non-learning machines.

A few minutes ago, and just for giggles, I tried to get in again using the phone number of a friend who is visiting. A phone number I never used for any purpose other than to call that friend. Here’s what my no-longer-my-friend Google replied:

 

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.