Why I’m quitting GMail

By | August 23, 2009

Lots of people have expressed fear at the power Google has over our information. I don’t intend to expound on that. Suffice it to say that they know more about me than I do.

It’s never bothered me. I have always trusted Google to take care of this information. They’ve always been on the same side of privacy, net neutrality, and copyright debates as me. They’re extremely active in the open source world and they seem to value open source rather than simply using us. I trust them.

I used to trust them.

A couple weeks ago, Aaron (head developer of Arch Linux) received an e-mail from Google Adsense telling us our account had been terminated:

While going through our records recently, we found that your AdSense
account has posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers. Since
keeping your account in our publisher network may financially damage our
advertisers in the future, we’ve decided to disable your account.

Please understand that we consider this a necessary step to protect the
interests of both our advertisers and our other AdSense publishers. We
realize the inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you in advance
for your understanding and cooperation.

How are we a risk to advertisers? What are we doing wrong? How do we fix it? No explanation. Aaron, of course, asked for clarification. They regurgitated the response:

Thanks for providing us with additional information. However, after
thoroughly reviewing your account data and taking your feedback into
consideration, we’ve re-confirmed that your account poses a significant
risk to our advertisers. For this reason, we’re unable to reinstate your
account. Thank you for your understanding.

As a reminder, if you have any questions about your account or the actions
we’ve taken, please do not reply to this email. You can find more
information by visiting

Following instruction for obtaining more info, Aaron posted here: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/AdSense/thread?tid=029aef7a42e7c4f2&hl=en&fid=029aef7a42e7c4f20004707fc5d9ce9e

Still no additional information. I find this offensive. We are an honest, upstanding, unfunded open source Linux Distribution. We have done nothing wrong.

I respect Google’s right to choose where they place ads. If I was a marketing agency for companies that sell adult products, I wouldn’t post advertisements in a daycare or during Saturday morning cartoons. However to cancel our account without giving us a chance to fix or even understand their rationale is troubling.

The money from Adsense is mediocre at best, compared to our donations and schwag income. But this event caused me to reevaluate my trust of this mammoth company. I’m not suddenly “OMG Google is evil, I must not use their products.” (As a teen I had this tendency toward Microsoft products. I’ve matured a bit and can acknowledge that Microsoft has some good products: their mice and keyboards.) However, I now feel less comfortable giving this company full control of my information.

And thus, I am slowly moving my e-mail account from GMail to my own domain. I’m considering anonymizing my Google cookie. I’m reluctant to put my own or client data on Google App engine. I’m losing enthusiasm for my Android powered phone (that has as much to do with Java as it does with Google, to be honest), and evaluating all new exciting Google services with just a hint of distrust.

Google still creates some of the best technology in the world, and they are still mostly friendly to the open source community. They are a large company and the actions of one department obviously don’t reflect the opinions of others. Adsense is Google’s cash cow. The more exciting Google projects occur in research and innovation. There isn’t much communication between the two.

I am looking forward to Google Wave (I intend to set up my own host, of course) and to an anonymized version of Chromium for Linux. I have no problem with Google Gears. I still use their maps, but I’ll have to stay off Latitude.

Update: This post unexpectedly hit Reddit, and within a few hours, Aaron got another e-mail telling us that our Adsense account had been reinstated. We’re still lacking an explanation, and I’m still not sure I trust them, but I have to give them credit for quick action!

I hadn’t made this post to get action out of Google, though, so we’re probably not putting Adsense back on archlinux.org and I’m probably not going to go back to GMail.

50 thoughts on “Why I’m quitting GMail

  1. cactus

    I have also been considering moving away from gmail (using google apps for domain right now). I have looked for alternatives, but aside from running my own mail domain I have found the alternatives to be meager.

    I have considered running my own mailserver again (have done so in the past), but to be honest, the effort involved (spam, antivirus, etc) is a deterrent.

    Please keep us (or just me even! ha) informed about your search for alternatives, and any good leads you run across.

      1. sys

        Wow, gmx really seems to have improved; back in 2004-2005 it was only available for Germany, Austria and maybe Switzerland.

    1. heysup

      Sounds like we need a community solution to google. I would consider that a ripe opportunity for sourceforge to grow up and stop being a static sandbox.

  2. brain0

    I never understood the big fuss about gmail anyway. I created an email account at gmx.de in 2008, and I still actively use that account as my primary one. I never felt the need to switch to something else. After all, what did Google have to offer me that others didn’t – except for a big hype, coolness factor and advertisements next to my mails? But maybe I am old-fashioned, I still primarily use POP3 and SMTP to manage my mails, I hate webmail interfaces and just keep using the stuff I always used – because they just work.

    1. Aaron Griffin

      I hate webmail interfaces until using gmail’s – that’s why I stay. The interface is superior to any other mail client I’ve ever used.

    1. rathish

      do you use adwords to drive traffic. If so thats the reason and the above is their canned email. There are so many alternatives. After evaluating so many i have almost narrowed down to kontera and chitika.
      Dont stop using gmail, instead cut their revenue flow. Use Adblock. Seems silly but still..

      1. cats and kittens

        adblock doesn’t do anything to text ads…
        also, please don’t.
        It’s one thing to leave, another to block text ads.

  3. some-guy

    For the chromium, look at iron (it’s actually in the AUR)

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  5. bokbokbok

    I bet this has to do with the word arch. You’re standing in the way of ads for arches, archery or “virtualization on any arch.”

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  8. Danny Piccirillo

    So, this might sound stupid at first, but my Facebook account was terminated under very suspicious circumstances and i was given no reason, sufficient warning, or way to get my account back. Turns out, this happens to a lot of Facebook users, and as you probably know, it’s within Facebook’s right (since we must sign their TOS to use the service) to do this. Facebook, Google, etc, all have similar TOS that allow them to act like this, and give users no leverage. Although Facebook is a worse offender simply due to their actual behavior, most sites have the same policy. As we can see, Google can also do things like this. Someone by the name of Rudy Arnauts is starting a Meeting-With-Mark campaign to meet with the founder of Facebook about these issues. Although it is around Facebook, the ultimate aim is to change the was users’ data is handles across the web. If you would like to get involved and make a statement explaining why these issues are important, please contact me, if not, i hope you get to the bottom of this incident and restore your adsense account.

  9. Roel

    I my opinion, this is plain and simple power abuse. Just imagine that if would be a country deciding that google must refuse Arch’s account? Or was it an influential customer asking this removal, and google just approving?


  10. Ryan

    I think it’s pretty easy to read between the lines here. Their advertisers aren’t making money off the ads on your site. They’ve optimized and targeted, but Arch Linux users apparently just don’t buy a lot of stuff from those ads. They come here to learn and that’s it.

    AdWords and AdSense aren’t about open source or giving back, they’re about making money. If people stop making money off their ads, they’ll stop using AdWords, and Google’s revenue dries up. So Google wants to prevent this by only placing ads on sites that result in not only clicks but conversions. I’d rather not have Google’s revenue stream disappear for now, at least until there is another competitor in search besides Microsoft.

    But thanks for the good work you do. Perhaps more people will be interested in donating, now that they know it’s your only source of income.

  11. Fhucho

    What may happened is that visitors of the arch website wanted to support the project by clicking on google ads and this was evaluated as harmful for google’s business.

  12. GordoL

    This has happened to a client of mine as well… They didn’t make much from Adwords, but they made enough to cover their hosting expenses… And for a small non-profit, that’s a lot. Sad day Google… Sad day. I too have been considering moving away from Google, for this sole reason: anything that self-perpetuates will grow out of control and things that grow out of control are bad. Google has just gotten too big… and that’s the sad, unfortunate truth. :[

  13. Fhucho

    What happened may be that archlinux.org visitors wanted to support the project by clicking on AdSense ads, which was discovered by some Google’s automated algorithm.

  14. James Devlin

    I think that by and large, Google does a good job of protecting their customer’s data. Certainly relative to some of the other companies out there. On the other hand, when Google drops the Ban Hammer, they’re so large that it can be difficult verging on impossible to get an actual human being to hear your complaint.

    The wording of the email is cause for concern. This is typical corporate-BS-speak: subtly dismissive, pretentiously worded, offering no real information and no answers. But it’s hard for me to really empathize because Google Adsense is pretty much the bottom of the barrel when it comes to advertising. It’s popular, but its popularity has a lot more to do with ease of use than with effectivness.



  15. Matt

    Hey, this happened to me too. Cl33n is a small Linux LiveCD that was until recently partially supported by AdSense ads. cl33n’s account was disabled, I appealed, and Google has decided to make the cancellation final. I still don’t know what cl33n did to incur Google’s wrath. I’d also love to know what happens to the money that Google collected from advertisers whose ads appeared on cl33n.com :).

  16. schnalle

    the keyboards, yes. the mice? not so much. the microsoft app i like most is still freecells.

  17. equark

    I tried switching from Gmail to my own domain, but soon found out that emails from my domain to gmail addresses were being classified as spam. I verified my email configuration, and everything is fine — even the SPF records are strict. Yet email from my domain address goes to the spam folder of gmail servers.

    Have you had any such problems? Any idea what could be going on?

  18. zoobas

    What was your click rate and other stats? Anything too high (and maybe too low, also) would raise flags. Also, you weren’t clicking on your own ads or anything like that, correct?

  19. Rob

    “Lots of people have expressed fear at the power Google has over our information. I don’t intend to expound on that. Suffice it to say that they know more about me than I do.”


    In a recent lawsuit, Google was court ordered to turn over everything about someone’s account who posted on one of their services. The only thing they had was their email address and IP.

    Granted, this was not the same area you work in but Google does not spy on you and knows nothing other than what you tell it. (And doesn’t care either)

  20. Rob

    This is how Google goes about terminating accounts. This happened to be years and years ago and without any real explanation. Normally it happens because your ads were placed in a way to trick visitors, you clicked on your own ads, or someone exploited them.

    For me I had no idea why I was banned until the next month when I received my check which was 5x its normal size. I then put two and two together and realized that one of the people in my community must have figured “Oh I’ll do them a favor and up their revenue” and got us banned…

    At any rate, as I stated above this is how they have been doing business since the beginning and to be honest I find it offensive that you only now make light of it when it has been all over the place over years, but then again, when it happens to the other guy, who cares.

  21. Keith Casey

    I had a similar experience almost two years ago and steadily switched all of personal/corporate email away from them. I still have many of my *public* mailing lists go there for archival purposes but anything I consider remotely important or private stays out.

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  23. opyate

    I once noticed an ad for “Marble Arch” (London/UK tourism-related) on the Arch Linux page. Perhaps the London tourism board complained about serving too many ads to unrelated sites (yours in particular)? You have a popular landmark competing with a popular distro 😛

    Google can be so vague.

  24. Mark Essel

    Sounds like Google is cutting corners with customer service. That’s a big PR marketing mistake that if not corrected will deteriorate long earned user trust and satisfaction. Hope they figure it out soon.

  25. Jeremy

    Google is not the company that most people think they are. They have done a couple of clever PR schemes to give the impression that they are friendly and pro-OS. But, the truth is that they are a HUGE, money hungry, evil monster. They will manipulate society with the data they control- including politics. They have ambition and it’s not to help the world be a better place.

  26. SEO

    This is the standard mail they send out to people they think is doing click-fraud (clicking on own ads).

    Hope this helps.

  27. Judge

    Yes, the “Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000” is awesome. Microsoft software is not so much…

    I’m not abandoning GMail until something better comes along. However, I am definitely going to start regular back-ups of my mail in earnest!

  28. Steve Freeman

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I had a similar experience recently with Amazon. They terminated my book account with no explanation and no recourse. The wording of the email notification and subsequent correspondence was remarkably similar to yours. I had data stored in S3 at the time and because they have a single login for all their services I was unable to access that account. I keep my data on my own server now and pay higher prices to order books from smaller bookstores. I too find this extremely troubling. We have to take these services as trustworthy on their word (or their promise “not to be evil”). Perhaps there needs to be some general customer bill of rights for cloud services just as we have and expect from other businesses.

  29. Brett Stevens

    When companies get too big, the goal no longer becomes to make a product but to monetize the existing product stream.

    As a result, they play around in the margins, cut costs and get more impersonal.

    Consequently, they become living dead zombie morons regarding anything but their primary business function.

    In addition, as with societies, when a company succeeds every idiot in the world wants to work there, and soon it replaces its talented workforce with morons because morons are more slavish.

    So it has been with large corporations, hippie communes and governments in the past.

  30. JC

    I was affraid things would come to this as well… For your adsense problem, perhaps some people click on the ads regularly on purpose (to ‘help’ you guys get some extra income). This is something google adsense does NOT want, they can ban you for it.. maybe this is why they did it?

  31. Daniel

    Cactus, how about Yahoo! Mail, they’ve beefed it up quite a bit.

  32. Rick

    The way they handle Adwords and Adsense customer service is an abomination. I can’t tell you how many times that they’ve turned off my accounts for no good reason and then it takes weeks for a proper response. It’s ridiculous – but that’s what happens when we deal with a monopoly.

  33. nms

    I used to run AdSense on my website a while back, but I got the same standard phrased e-mail with no explanation as you got, and upon contacting them with an appeal I received another one confirming the termination of my AdSense account and informing me pretty much that I have no chance in hell ever getting it reactivated. This is almost a year ago and still no explanation.

  34. heysup

    This seems much more egregious than Mackey being against national health care. Where’s the google boycotts from the masses?

  35. Mike Cantelon

    Wow… that’s a very uncool way to do business (and reminds me of how Apple handles App Store rejections).

    Google generally seem to care a lot how they are perceived because they rely so heavily on our trust. I hope Google sees this and revises their process.

  36. Justin Lilly

    It seems you need some form of public “Why did you do this?” to make them reinstate things. They did the same with my gmail account after I had a haywire fetchmail script. I’ve migrated my mail as well and I’m much happier because of it.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    I’ve matured a bit and can acknowledge that Microsoft has some good products: their mice and keyboards

    Quite a small bit, dare I say.

  38. Greg

    I stopped using gmail and all other google products a while ago.
    I only occasionally log into gmail to see if i get email from sites i forgot to change my email adress.
    I expect at the end of the year to delete my user account on google and never mess with them again.

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