So you're saying you've deleted me over $11?
November 28, 2012 11:11 AM   Subscribe

My email host canceled my account due to a dumb billing error. I was told they can't bring it back. 13 years of correspondences with loved ones past and present, addressees, contacts, letters written but never sent just vanished. Gone. Is there anything I can do to fix this?

In 1999 I signed up for a residential DSL account through Company X and kept this service provider for 12 years over several moves throughout my city. I moved into a place in 2011 that included wifi, canceled my DSL and kept my email address with Company X for a $5 monthly hosting fee. I didn’t mind the fee, it was more than worth it for me to keep my address and have an ad free email service that didn't do annoying tracking shit like gmail, yahoo, hotmail etc. Company X does not typically offer email hosting as a stand alone service, but extended it as a courtesy to existing broadband customers.

About 10 days ago I called customer service when I couldn't log into my account and a nice lady tracked the problem to a billing mistake on both our parts. She apologized for their end, processed my $11 payment and indicated that everything was fine and I'd be able to access my account after 10-15 min.

I called back later in the evening after several unsuccessful login attempts. Another nice man tried to fix it over the phone and thought it was a problem related to changes they made in how usernames are formatted at login. He opened a trouble ticket and said they'd try to fix it as soon as possible but that I might need to be patient due to high priority service outages caused by Hurricane Sandy.

After about a week without an update I called back, talked to yet another very nice man who said they would have the problem fixed by the end of the day. This did not happen.

The fourth Very Nice Person I talked to said that my account had been deleted – not just locked or deactivated - deleted. no longer exists. He said that because the account wasn't tethered to any “actual” services, they can't bring it back. It's just gone. He seemed quite certain about this.

Over the years I've had several computers, multiple technical meltdowns and stupidly used Company X's webmail service as my back-up. It had the most complete archive of my adult life in it – a decade of dumb jokes between me and my late father, the beginning, development and sometimes end of every relationship that has mattered to me, ongoing correspondences with friends I've had for 15-20 years, embarrassing and over-wrought love-angry-hurt-goodby-sad letters written but never sent – all gone.

Besides this, it is going to be a huge pain in the ass to re-create my contacts, get the word out about my new address, get back into my currently deactivated facebook account and access other online accounts that use email addresses to reset forgotten passwords.

I'm surprised at how devastated I am by this and how much latent grief this has kicked up. It's hard for me to accept that there is really nothing that can be done.

My questions:

Any ideas on how/why tech support was able to process a payment and open a trouble ticket on a deleted account? The process of this fuck up seems very odd to me.

Do ya'll think this is something they can't or won't fix?

If it's the latter, do you have any tips for how to sweet talk Company X into trying to restore my (surely low-priority) account and/or recover my files?

Also, any suggestions for a good, ad free email hosting service? I've seen recommendations for fastmail in these parts, any others worth considering? I'm fine with a fee based service.

Thank You!
posted by space_cookie to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If it's the latter, do you have any tips for how to sweet talk Company X into trying to restore my (surely low-priority) account and/or recover my files?

Escalate, escalate, escalate. Get a supervisor as high up on the chain as you can go. Nice Guy can't help you? Get his name, ID #, your ticket number and talk to his supervisor.

Also, sweet-talking and sad stories don't work, ever. I mean, you should never be rude, of course, but you're not going to cajole someone into solving this problem. You need to get into Serious Business mode because fucking up like this for a customer they've had for over a decade is really, really not acceptable. "Fix this or I'm moving my account" should be something that comes out of your mouth before you give up, and you should absolutely follow through on it if they really can't help you.
posted by griphus at 11:16 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely escalate, per griphus's note. However, do it in writing. Write a physical, paper letter detailing your complaint and (this is key) a clear remedy or two that you are willing to accept. Send it via certified mail, if you wish.

This is what I do for a living, and can assure you that I have gotten much faster, more satisfying results writing than if I were to call. Companies still take words written on paper far more seriously than than they do phone calls.
posted by Atrahasis at 11:32 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yes, definitely send it certified if you're writing a letter (which I agree is a great idea.) And cite everything you can: how long you've been a customer, ticket number, the names of ID numbers of the people you spoke with, how many days you've been dealing with this, etc. Don't mention that any of this has sentimental value, however. You lost eleven years of Important Correspondence; it shouldn't matter what the content is.
posted by griphus at 11:35 AM on November 28, 2012

griphus: ""Fix this or I'm moving my account" should be something that comes out of your mouth before you give up, and you should absolutely follow through on it if they really can't help you."

The OP is basically a legacy client grandfathered into a low-revenue service they don't offer anymore. From an billing and ops standpoint, they're probably actually glad to see him go (sorry, space_cookie, just being honest).

Your email is somewhere in some backup, but I think you're going to have a hard time getting someone to get it for you unless you happen to stumble upon a very helpful tech. If you can find (or deduce) the email of the CEO, write him or her a brief, non-complainy email explaining your situation and asking to be routed to someone who can help you.

Cross your fingers. But be prepared for the likelihood that your email is gone, gone, gone.
posted by mkultra at 11:37 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

suggestions for a good, ad free email hosting service: sadly, not fastmail anymore. The level of support you got from your email provider amazes me (you were able to TALK to a PERSON? on the SAME DAY? wow). My fastmail account mysteriously disappeared for a couple of days (ouch), and there seemed to be no possibility of getting their attention. The level of support was pretty dismal.
posted by Corvid at 11:37 AM on November 28, 2012

They should have tape back ups, but depending on their policies they might not keep them for long before over writing. 7-14 days is probably the range they have available, so escalate high and fast. Your email was most likely stored as simple Unix mail boxes, which you can import into anything. If it's on tape they should be able to get to it for you, and you should be able to rescue the mail.

You might also offer to pay for a couple of hours of labor for them to retrieve the data. You shouldn't really have to, but it might smooth the process.
posted by COD at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2012

I bookmarked these guys a while back when I was looking to get off of Gmail. Zoho is working fine for me, but Polaris Mail was my next option. They are even running a special for FastMail customers.
posted by COD at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2012

While I like COD's tactic to offer to pay for labor, there's a good chance that they may not have an easy method to accept that payment. It's possible that you could offer to sign up for 6 mos of DSL as a quid pro quo, though, and to get an account that is "tethered to actual services".
posted by mercredi at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2012

For email hosting in the future, I'd consider registering your own domain, then buying email-only hosting.
posted by fontophilic at 11:49 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This won't help the current situation unfortunately, but in the future, always, always back up your data. Especially if the only copy is on some company's servers. You want to always have your important data in a safe place on some hardware that you personally own (ideally in multiple places). You'll still have lost the email address (since you don't own the domain), but at least that's replaceable. POP3 or IMAP can be used to download all emails from a server.

Sorry that this happened, though, and hopefully the advice here can help you recover your emails.
posted by floomp at 11:49 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

This company has given you a different answer everytime you've called. You can't be certain that all your information is gone for good. Keep escalating. Talk to an IT manager if possible. Ask if they make backups of their email accounts. If the person on the other line doesn't know, or doesn't have details, then demand to speak to some who does know.

Backups can be done daily, weekly, or even monthly. They can be recorded to tapes or other media, which can be a pain in the ass to recover. I would definitely make sure they aren't being lazy and giving you a quick answer to make you go away. They acted very unprofessionally by deleting all your stuff with no recourse. I'd highly doubt that a network company that has been around for over 10 years doesn't make backups of their stuff. Events like these are exactly what they are for.
posted by nikkorizz at 12:23 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The current popular buzzword is "cloud computing" - outsourcing responsibility for a service. Sooner or later, there's a screwup, or a failure, or a bankruptcy, or a change of business strategy, and whatever you valued is suddenly gone.

It is so frustrating to see this happen, again and again, in this age of cheap computing resources and plentiful storage. It is unfortunate that we haven't made it trivial for users to host their own mail services, or to properly back up data.

In any case, speaking as a mail administrator, definitely get right on this. Data retention policies vary widely.
posted by jgreco at 3:45 PM on November 28, 2012

First thing tomorrow messenger a "preservation of evidence" letter to their legal department and CEO. The letter should include details about your account, and that you want all files including all backup tapes preserved as you are filing a lawsuit. Send the same via email to every relevant address.
This should bump it up to the highest priority (as "stuff" flows downhill).
Then get a lawyer. He can do the followup letter offering to drop the suit if you are given access to all your files. He can advise you on filing in small claims court as that may be the cheapest way to pressure them if they are still giving you the runaround.
You may be up against a deadline as the files age out of the backup. Tell them that losing a month or two of the recent files would be acceptable as it would be better than nothing.
And you may want to read Jason Scott's 2009 warning/epic rant about this.
posted by Sophont at 8:44 PM on November 28, 2012

If they have a disaster recovery plan, there's a good chance they have a backup of your account somewhere. The problem is the hassle it would take to recover that account (eg, depending on their backup solutions, they may have to go through the trouble of restoring the entire mail server with all mailboxes in order to extract yours...a very timely process and requires additional resources they might not have easily available)

So yes, escalate, mentioned before. You don't want your data to fall off the backup cycle if you're still within the retention window. Even if they can't restore it to your account, see if you can offer to pay for a DVD or zipped version of the mailbox you could import into Outlook or other mail client.

On the other hand, and I know this might not seem helpful, I've been in a similar situation before where I used to archive every piece of data and correspondence I had for over a decade. It was painful to lose...but that was 5 years ago now and I rarely think about that day anymore.
posted by samsara at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2012

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