Search Buzz behind bars: 24-hour Gmail lockdown

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I have been there. And I have returned. This is the true story of a Web user caught in the thorny mess of the war between the engines that offer e-mail services. Framed by one engine, while my e-mail was held in solitary confinement under a 24-hour Gmail lockdown, I plead innocent on all charges.

It all started one Friday when a friend convinced me to test out the new Yahoo Mail beta. A longtime Gmail user, I had let my Yahoo account lapse a few years back. Upon reactivating it, Yahoo noticed the lapse, but recognized that I still use my Yahoo login for other services. "Nice touch," I thought. With all the data that online services collect, it feels good to be remembered.

Being the beta-obsessed person that I am, I opted for all the bells and whistles. I quickly clicked through, checking boxes without reading the fine print, anxious to see what the interface would reveal. One of the more attractive options was the ability to import my contacts and e-mails from another account using Trueswitch, an independent service that Yahoo has chosen to integrate. I was impressed. If Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks allow users to directly import their contacts, why not an e-mail service? I should have known better.

Seconds after clicking, I realized that perhaps I had made a mistake. Maybe it was the language about "closing your old account." Close my old account? When did I agree to that? And how would that even be possible? All I wanted to do was rightfully copy my e-mails and my contacts to another account. And that's when lockdown happened.

For those who have not experienced a Gmail lockdown, it's quite simple: You try to log in, and Google says this:

"Our system indicates unusual usage of your account. In order to protect Google Mail users from potentially harmful use of Google Mail, this account has been disabled for up to 24 hours."

Unusual usage? Harmful use? But these are my e-mails and my contacts! Shouldn't I be allowed to manage them as I see fit? This would be like 5-Day Planner sending over armed thugs to prevent me from coping my agenda into an FranklinCovey Planner.

I grabbed my Treo in hopes that maybe mobile access would airlift me out of this precarious situation. It was in vain. I scoured the Web for help. While others had written about lockdown, there was no advice on what exactly one should do, how long it would take to restore service, and if there would be permanent scars.

The scars, of course, were only psychological. Over the next 24 hours, my account torturously opened and closed periodically. Since I was framed by Yahoo and had already committed an act of treason in the eyes of Google, I was left no other option: return to my Hotmail account that I have maintained since 1998.

Could it really be that Microsoft was my rescuer? Indeed, at one point I realized that my Gmail was still popping through to MS Outlook, an interface I never use, but had set up "just in case all things Google go south," a moment we all fear.

Update: The author is currently writing this from a warm locale, where she is recovering from the trauma of Google lockdown. As for her new Yahoo account and the Trueswitch technology, only half of her folder names were successfully transferred. None of the e-mails nor contacts were successful in the move. No data were killed during the incident.

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