Why customers need better protection


Customer service. FILE PHOTO | NMG

In Kenya, we know about power that is unchecked by rules or structured consequences; we have a word for it — impunity, and it’s a word we use often, because there is so much of it in our society. But, we would be mistaken if we thought impunity was a uniquely Kenyan circumstance, for it is not. Indeed, when it comes to corporates that have moved to take over entire sectors, the whole world is grappling with their mounting impunity, a case in point being Google.

In fact, Google now has five times the employees of a decade ago, at nearly 120,000, and a flurry of recent articles citing its staff as saying the pace of growth has seen it abandon its principles, both in ethics and service.

More quietly, the results are consumer experiences that have become shockingly appalling, a case in point being for GoogleAds.

There, the problem is like some slavery story of never being able to stop. For when you set up an advertising campaign on Google Ads, you get just two options for its status, running, or not. Deep in an editing menu, you can also find an option to delete it completely, but wherever your campaign is listed, it can only be on or ‘paused’. And that ‘paused’ function is impunity writ large. For pause, as defined in Google’s own dictionary, means ‘interrupt action or speech briefly’. And there’s the rub. For you can run your campaign or ‘pause’ it, but once paused, Google may or may not ‘unpause’ it for you.

You would think there would be rules on that: some defined period of ‘pause’. There is not. One poor woman, of many now paying Google their salaries, rent, and budgets meant for other things, reported an external (not her doing) unpausing to Google’s own ‘community’ that help each other with its products - since it barely can any longer - and was told by another user it was necessary to ‘check’ your ‘pause’ every few days.

What? When I ‘pause’ my TV, it doesn’t spring back on hours, days, weeks, or a year later all by itself. Nor does my kettle, or any other service I pay Sh10,000 a day for.

Yet I have a large ad campaign I ran for a Kenyan real estate client from 2018 to February 22nd 2019 that Google has now twice unpaused, most recently after a gap of more than a year, taking just short of Sh100,000 in charges from my account in just the last month, and opening a journey with Google’s customer care of eye-widening incompetence.

As a matter of fact, there can be no argument with Google over who did what on your account – you personally, or their system - because it all shows on server records. Computers are not sentient and do not do things without records. In my own case, Google lied twice about checking the server records without doing it. Eventually, it wrote saying it would refund the charges, and that’s when we moved into a different circus.

It sent a refund that it simultaneously re-charged against my GoogleAd account and then retook payment for. It recharged a payment from my bank account in the same moment as it sent a refund, so the two transactions cancelled each other out, and the original payment was left unrefunded.

A particular customer care manager has cited technical errors now boringly often, but has claimed, throughout, that the problems are only mine. A Google Ads employee was more honest and said he had seen another customer suffer a reopened historical campaign without his permission. On the internet and chatboards, I found many fellow sufferers.

Google, which nearly runs our world, cannot manage a function to get your permission or affirmation to restart any ad campaign you stop: a strange gap for our once tech geniuses. And it cannot manage refunds either. All too complicated, these days, from its 120,000 people. So, sadly, it has to suffer from having Sh100,000 in extra revenues from me.

So risk it if you dare. It has cost me my rent. Just because I created a search ad – long ago – that I then stopped.