Editor’s note: This SOS column is one in an occasional series highlighting companies that prove themselves unresponsive, unhelpful or uninterested in explaining themselves.
Tech giants Google and Meta offer a lot of online, automated help for customers who run into trouble with their products.
But good luck finding an actual, named human employee to do what the machines can’t (or won’t).
Chris Hornung, 70, formerly of rural Verona, emailed SOS in March to say YouTube had been double-billing him for his single YouTube account for more than a year, and after trying to get the problem straightened out with his credit card company, the credit card company suggested he take it up with YouTube’s parent company, Google, directly.
That was easier said than done.
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“I’m wondering if the customer service department is a test bed for their AI (artificial intelligence) software because their email responses have been polite but predictable and unhelpful,” he said. “They seem to be one big machine that’s bulletproof except when it’s not.”
Hornung said he’d been filing objections to the extra bills with his credit card company, which would alert Google only to see Google reject the objections and reinstate the charges.
“I don’t know why anyone would need two identical streaming subscriptions,” Hornung said. “Besides, Google should be able to see if one of the accounts is being used. Here’s a catch: According to Google, I have only one account, so I don’t have any idea how they can bill on the first of the month and the 17th.”
SOS began its series of failed attempt to help Hornung on April 11, when it emailed folks at Google. It emailed again on April 20 and May 4, when it also posted on Google’s and YouTube’s Facebook pages, tweeted YouTube and spent 23 minutes on hold at Google’s California headquarters without ever speaking to anyone.
YouTube’s nameless tweeter responded with a link to online help. “They’ll get actual human help by reaching out to us via twitter or by contacting our live support here,” it said. Google’s press office similarly emailed a link to online help.
Hornung dutifully tried both; they didn’t help and he reported no actual human contact.
“I ended up canceling the credit card that was attached to the duplicate billings and reinstating one subscription, but they still owe me 14 months of payments,” Hornung said on May 24. “Welcome to the world of machines gone astray.”
Chris Monge, 53, of Lodi, had spent eight months trying to get Facebook to reinstate his hacked account before he contacted SOS on April 18.
“Someone changed the email address associated with the page,” he said. “I emailed a copy of my photo ID as well as other info asking for help to an email address for Facebook but have not gotten a response.”
SOS similarly got no response from Facebook or parent company Meta to emails to Facebook on April 20 and May 4. Ditto to posts or messages to two Facebook Facebook pages — at least not from a human. In one case, it appeared a bot responded:
“We’re slowly learning how to better respond to all types of requests, but don’t have more information on that right now (sad face emoji). Check out our Help Center for additional support or choose from our options below.”
SOS let Monge know as much on May 27, and Monge said he’d report back “if I ever get in touch with anybody.”
Monge works in insurance and said on June 14 that “what pains me the most about my situation is that to control my business pages I need to be able to log in personally because I’m the administrator.
“Without access to my profile, my business pages are effectively dead,” he said.