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posted by n1 on Saturday September 13 2014, @05:41AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the too-big-to-email-customers dept.

Normally Google users who email the address “support-de@google.com” receive an automatic reply notifying the emailer that Google will neither read nor reply to customer support emails due to the large number of requests sent to the address. After that sentence, the automatic reply directs Google users to various online self-help guides and contact forms. Now PC World reports that a German court has has ruled that Google must stop ignoring customer emails and start offering a way to communicate with the company. According to the German Telemedia Act says, companies must provide a way to ensure fast electronic communications with them. The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) argued that Google’s support address is a black box in which messages disappear into a void.

This doesn’t mean that every incoming email should now be checked and processed individually by a Google employee, the court said. But the company has to provide the possibility for users to contact it via email, it said. It was left up to Google how to deal with future incoming email. If Google does not change its conduct, it could be fined up to €250,000 (about US$323,000) (PDF in German), the court said.

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by juggs on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:01AM

    by juggs (63) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:01AM (#92686) Journal

    These are user support emails not customer support emails. The vast majority of gmail / hangouts users are not in any sense customers of Google, they are in effect the product - or at least the raw material for the product.

    • (Score: 2) by q.kontinuum on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:13AM

      by q.kontinuum (532) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:13AM (#92688) Journal

      Irrelevant Thevlaw ins valid Form ans commercial website in Germany, and Google.de definitely qualifies.

      --
      Registered IRC nick on chat.soylentnews.org: qkontinuum
      • (Score: 1) by juggs on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:22AM

        by juggs (63) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:22AM (#92690) Journal

        For sure it qualifies. My nit-pick was with the title / summary using the two words interchangeably. Call me a pedant :D

        • (Score: 2) by q.kontinuum on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:38AM

          by q.kontinuum (532) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:38AM (#92694) Journal

          I call you worse: a pedant who's wrong!

          As you know, Google Search users are paying with their data, and through cookies and tracking mechanism they do so even if they are not logged in or even registered. So they might not be registered customers, but customers they remain.

          Now you call me a worse pedant!

          (As someone else pointed out, if the verdict is 200k once, Google will probably ignore it. Btw: If you want to challenge my definition of "customer", keep in mind that even the registered customers are usually not paying in money...)

          --
          Registered IRC nick on chat.soylentnews.org: qkontinuum
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @09:00AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @09:00AM (#92704)

            > Now you call me a worse pedant!

            No. A pedant is someone who is all about the trees, not the forest - minutiae over meaning. Your analysis was 100% forest.

            Payment with non-traditional currency is absolutely still payment.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by maxwell demon on Saturday September 13 2014, @08:02AM

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday September 13 2014, @08:02AM (#92700) Journal

      From a legal point of view, they are customers. And the legal point of view is all that counts at court.

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
  • (Score: 2) by Ryuugami on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:10AM

    by Ryuugami (2925) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:10AM (#92687)

    Ignoring for a moment that Google could recoup those 250k Euros in something like 5 seconds, what would be the cost of setting up such a system (including additional employee wages etc.)?
    With the volume of emails G probably receives, it could be significantly cheaper to just pay the courts and keep ignoring the law, 'till the next lawsuit rolls around.

    --
    If a shit storm's on the horizon, it's good to know far enough ahead you can at least bring along an umbrella. - D.Weber
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by frojack on Saturday September 13 2014, @07:14AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Saturday September 13 2014, @07:14AM (#92697) Journal

      With the volume of emails G probably receives, it could be significantly cheaper to just pay the courts

      Courts have a habit of upping the anti when you ignore them.

      The cheapest solution is to appeal it to a higher court, pointing out in the appeal that having people to read and categorize every email, let alone answer them, would exceed by several orders of magnitude any revenue that Google could earn from servicing those users.

      Failing that, the best solution is to apologize via to each customer that you can't help them, and a German court says that they can not continue to serve "customers" they can't help, and therefore Google has no choice but to close the customer's Google accounts.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @09:04AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @09:04AM (#92706)

        Failing that, the best solution is to apologize via to each customer that you can't help them, and a German court says that they can not continue to serve "customers" they can't help, and therefore Google has no choice but to close the customer's Google accounts.

        That would be an excellent result. We need more variety in internet services. Consolidation into a handful of behemoths is not healthy in the long run because it discourages innovation -- no need to innovate when you are 10x larger than the next closest competitor.

        • (Score: 2) by khallow on Saturday September 13 2014, @07:47PM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday September 13 2014, @07:47PM (#92794) Journal

          An "excellent result" would more variety of services that can't have German customers because of this ruling? Small businesses would have the same customer support problem as well. And somehow I think this ruling is less of a problem for the behemoths due to economies of scale than for the small would-be competitor.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by maxwell demon on Saturday September 13 2014, @08:18AM

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday September 13 2014, @08:18AM (#92702) Journal

      Not very high: Instead of sending back mails saying "we don't care about your mail", instead send back a mail saying "to contact us, please make sure that your mail conforms to the following requirements. [two pages of requirements, which are easily automatically checked]". Only mails that pass all those requirements are passed on.

      This would reduce the mails to those people who have a serious enough problem to actually go through two pages of instructions, and then additionally weed out those not able to follow them. The few mails that pass this barrier can then easily be handled by a few employees.

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 1) by archfeld on Saturday September 13 2014, @08:06PM

        by archfeld (4650) <treboreel@live.com> on Saturday September 13 2014, @08:06PM (#92800) Journal

        Do like SOE does to its' WoW customers, give them a phone number that is NOT toll-free, is located in 'far-away land' and has a single line available. You'd have to be exceedingly desperate to wait and pay the toll charges. Net result is the same though, very few, if any will hop through that many hoops for a free service, be they customers or consumers or however you want to refer to them.

        --
        For the NSA : Explosives, guns, assassination, conspiracy, primers, detonators, initiators, main charge, nuclear charge
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @03:21PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @03:21PM (#92745)

      Could? It's probably cheaper to pay, even if they get fined that every month.

  • (Score: 1) by Horse With Stripes on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:38AM

    by Horse With Stripes (577) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:38AM (#92693)

    These demands by the German court will fall on deaf ears. They should not have sent this decision to Google via email to support-de@google.com

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @02:05PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @02:05PM (#92737)

      Users can be given a drop down menu to categorize their requests. Google can then offer canned responses, and a chance to email again if that didn't help. The second email would have to be answered, but this would cut down the number of individual responses needed.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by maxwell demon on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:01PM

        by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday September 13 2014, @06:01PM (#92776) Journal

        Or maybe they could license Watson to handle customer requests. ;-)

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.