I've been locked out of my Google account! What can I do? How can I prevent this in the future? HELP! (Updated: March 28, 2016)

(At Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/001159.html)

Locked out of your Google account, eh? Yeah, that can definitely ruin your day, especially when you depend on Gmail and other Google services. The best way to avoid this problem is to take proactive steps ahead of time, which I'll get to in a moment. But for now, you just want back in, right?

Basically, whether your lockout is for entirely innocent reasons -- for example, forgetting your password -- or the account was suspended due to Google suspecting some form of illegal activity or terms of service violation, the entry point to the account recovery system is the forms that start here:

https://www.google.com/accounts/recovery

These will guide you through a series of questions that in most cases can get you up and running again in short order.

In practice, how painless this process will be depends on a number of factors.

For example, if your account has been suspended/closed by Google for what they suspect are illicit or otherwise improper activities, you will likely face an appeals process (even if you're actually innocent) that -- frankly -- is not ideal. This is an area where Google continues to improve but more work still needs to be done.

In simpler cases -- like the forgotten password -- the situation should be much smoother, especially if you've proactively (that is, previously) set up the account recovery options that Google offers here:

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/183723

This allows you to specify a non-Google email address and/or mobile number to receive recovery codes that you can use to regain access to your Google account. Don't be paranoid about giving Google this information. They're not going to use it for anything other than helping you get back into your account or dealing with other account-related issues, and they won't give this info to anyone else.

Of course, you need to have set these up in advance of having access problems for these techniques to be useful -- that's why Google prompts you to do so at intervals. So set them up! If you don't have an alternate email or mobile phone, and can't get either, then at the very least you should ask a highly trusted friend or relative to allow you to use theirs for this purpose. This definitely isn't ideal and should be avoided if possible for obvious reasons, but can be a practical alternative that is better than not having any recovery data specified at all.

If you're locked out and haven't set up recovery email or phone numbers, things get tougher. Google has been wisely ending support for security questions, because -- well -- they suck for all kinds of reasons. I've long marveled at how so many people seem to feel that they must answer security questions honestly (who really needs to know the name of your first grade teacher?), but really, security questions have become more of a problem than solution. More info on this at:

https://security.googleblog.com/2015/05/new-research-some-tough-questions-for.html

In some cases, if you don't have security phone numbers or addresses on file when you lose account access, Google's recovery forms will alternatively ask you a series of questions about your account that typically only you would know the answers to. The problem is that you may not remember the correct answers to those questions either -- many people don't -- so you really do want to set up that recovery data ahead of time and avoid getting to this point, or to other even more complicated aspects of the recovery flow. So again, please do take the time to specify the recovery phone and/or email address in advance of needing them!

A couple of related points:

Did you know that you can download virtually all of your data you have stored with Google? Yep, email, files, all kinds of goodies. You can take them to another service or just store them on flash drives under your bed if you're into that kind of thing.

Take a look at the very cool Google Takeout system at:

https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout

You can also use this page for the same purpose:

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3024190

I wish all firms provided a feature like this. Note however that this is not a way to download your data after you've been locked out of your account -- you need regular account access to use it. I have long felt that there should be some means for downloading your own data from Google in various situations even if you have lost access to the account for some reason not involving violations of law -- after all, it's still your data -- but this is admittedly a quite complicated issue that goes beyond the scope of this posting.

Finally, there's the unpleasant but unavoidable question of what happens to your data if you're incapacitated or even die. Google has two primary mechanisms for dealing with this. In the latter case, the form at:

https://support.google.com/accounts/contact/deceased

is available to help deal with related issues after the fact.

But a much better alternative is to designate who should have access to your account in the future, if for some reason you are unable to access it for some period of time that you specify. This is handled through Google's Inactive Account Manager, which is here:

https://www.google.com/settings/account/inactive

Again, this is a feature that you must proactively configure in advance for it to be useful.

When it comes to avoiding problems with accessing your Google account, planning ahead and taking advantage of the many features and tools that Google makes available for this purpose, makes a great deal of sense.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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