Google lifted Friday a controversial ban, which shut down the digital identities of consumers who took advantage of a tax loophole, to make money by reselling their Pixel smartphones.

The company wiped out the Google accounts of about 200 users who had purchased the Pixel and Pixel XL through Project and shipped them to a reseller in New Hampshire, where there is no sales tax. The customers earned a profit from each phone, and the gadgets were then resold to others, a practice clearly prohibited by Google’s terms of service.

Google Pixel
Google Pixel. Image credit: Google.

The firm’s terms of service state that customers are only allowed to purchase devices for personal use or as a gift. Daniel Eleff, who owns the website Dan’s Deals, informed that the reseller started doing this since Google released the original Nexus and this is the first time they encountered a problem. The company shut down and canceled around 500 orders.

The AP described the company’s harsh measure as a death sentence because those accounts suddenly vanished as if they had never existed. It is worth noting that Google did so without warning. The affected users lost access to their Gmail accounts, photos, and voicemails. Many of them missed important emails with confirmation numbers for their flights and data related to their work or medical records, among other information that was key to their personal lives.

However, Google said that many of the affected accounts were specifically created and used for reselling purposes, according to a statement it sent to Eleff. It was the first one to reveal the news about the complaints from forum members affected by the ban.

The company added it investigated the situation and started to restore access to genuine accounts for users who lost their personal data stored on Google services. Google also said it decided to lift the ban because many people were not aware of the particular term they violated, according to Engadget.

“We identified a scheme in which consumers were asked to purchase Pixel devices on behalf of a reseller, who then marked-up the cost of those devices in order to resell them to other customers,” Google’s statement reads, according to Dan’s Deals website. “We prohibit the commercial resale of devices purchased through Project Fi or the Google Store so everyone has an equal opportunity to purchase devices at a fair price”.

A heavy-handed decision?

The tech giant’s decision to ban all those accounts serves as a reminder of the control internet services have over users’ personal information. Of course, everyone who violates its terms of use should be punished but wiping out their accounts with no warning may have been too extreme.

Eleff told The Guardian he had no intentions of defending those who violated Google’s rules but did express that the company owed their customers “a much higher standard of responsibility” given that it had become a large part of their lives. Indeed, many Google users rely on the service for every aspect of their digital world. Eleff added that the tech giant should have only prohibited them to buy phones in the future instead of taking away their right to access their personal information.

Source: Techcrunch