Google is an all-powerful entity that dominates almost every facet of my digital life. This includes the emails I check, the documents I write, the phone I use, the photos I take, the images I search, the websites I browse, the videos I watch, and the accounts I create with third-party applications. It can all be traced back to one company, and so much of what’s on the web is somehow woven into the vast web of Google.
Even my job, which is based on relying on the world’s most popular search engine, can mean that Google determines my livelihood. It’s an absurd amount of power for a single company to own, and it’s pretty scary when I think about it for too long. This doesn’t matter much though, does it? After all, Google is a great service. It’s not that one of the most common services can actually be a total nightmare.
Well, over the course of the past month, my trust in Google has been tarnished. It’s not uncommon to find occasional issues with the company’s services, but these inconveniences pile up and I’m baffled at how bad Google has been for me lately.
This piece highlights the issues I’ve encountered when exchanging Google emails. My dissatisfaction with my old email address, which was created for me years ago, has made me want to change domains for years. However, I never took the initiative to do this because I always knew it would be a huge undertaking. I don’t entirely blame Google for making this system so difficult, but there are a few ways it could be designed better.
Why I wanted to change my email address
Some users created their email as an uptight guy sneaking an inappropriate joke into their address. As adulthood kicks in, they seek a more professional name to represent their online presence for communicating with colleagues and other valued connections. Saddled with some crazy username they don’t like anymore, many users are ready for a change.
In my case, the email I’ve been using for the past ten years was opened by my father. The thing is, he didn’t spell my name correctly in the address itself. And for many years I’ve been emailing professors and other students in scientific settings with a misspelled email, while taking that into my professional career too and trying to clear up the confusion when explaining how my email address is spelled differently than my real name.
But that’s not why I decided to open a new email address. I didn’t care if people misspelled that name because I don’t have any attachment to it. The problem surfaced when I came out as a trans woman this year, because that email address contains my misspelled dead name. Now, even when I unsubscribe from emails that respond to people as “Momo”, they still use that dead name, and it frustrated me for months.
It’s funny when I email someone and they don’t just use that dead name but spell it wrong. Besides being funny, the whole situation is exhausting. Google has never made it easier because you can’t change your email address once it’s set in stone. This makes sense in the context of the system, as it’s not as simple as a username. But it’s kind of bizarre how unforgiving it is to those who want to rebrand themselves, especially trans individuals who want to give up their dead names.
Problems with email and label forwarding
While we all use our Google account for a number of things, it is primarily an email service. And trying to move all your emails from one place is pretty hard. Aside from having to switch everything, the most challenging part is informing those who email you about the switch.
I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about this process as swapping everything out was pretty intuitive – other than the forwarding option hidden behind a very specific menu. But that just required a quick Google search. Then I was on my way. But even if that’s done and you’ve managed to pass everything between accounts, Google’s automatic labeling system is pretty frustrating to deal with.
All my old emails were successfully sent to my new account, but when I was about 50, they were automatically tagged with my old email address as an attachment. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but that email address contains the dead name I’ve been meaning to provide. It doesn’t feel good to see it every time I open my Gmail.
I initially thought it was as simple as renaming the label so I wouldn’t have to see that dead name anymore, but this didn’t work. All that change did was rename the label on those old emails instead of automatically labeling new emails from that source. I felt pretty hopeless because it was not feasible to manually rename old emails to get rid of my old address.
But after quite a bit of tinkering, I managed to program a system that would automatically label every email from that old source as “Momo”. I also made sure to hide the label with my old email address, meaning I ideally never have to see it again.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop it from appearing anywhere specific. Whenever I open the Gmail app on my phone and click the three bars at the top left to show my labels, my old email address is placed at the top of “recent labels”, even though I selected the option to hide it. I’m not sure how to prevent this.
Google Drive issues
Transferring everything to Google Drive was the most cumbersome part of this process, as Google enforces a quota that limits the number of items you can transfer ownership of within a day. Not only that, there is also no ‘transfer ownership’ button that is immediately available. I had to share the file first and even when I selected ‘transfer ownership’ I had to accept the permission for my new account. This makes sense in the case of some random account trying to impose your ownership without your knowledge, but the problem is that the sharing quota limits the number of files you can accept within that time frame.
There should be an easy export and import option for this. Some will have to switch accounts permanently at some point in their lives for one reason or another. Isn’t it just possible to have a feature that allows me to completely transfer ownership of all files from my old account to my new one? It’s ridiculous to manually transfer every file and be blocked from doing too much at once if I miscalculate the unclear share quota.
I understand that having a “transfer all” button can be a privacy violation and an easy way to steal everything from someone’s account, but certainly an extra security measure could be implemented when people want to use that feature. To be fair, if someone managed to breach your Google account, they could do a lot more damage by accessing your stored financial information. I would much rather take an extra security measure than have to transfer files continuously for a week. I’ve been using this Google account for ten years and still have so many files that I can transfer ownership of.
Caught by my Google Pixel
I’ve been using a Google phone for a few years and even before that, my Gmail was linked to every Android phone I’ve owned. This means that all the data I have saved is directly linked to the old account. As a result, I still haven’t removed the old address from my Google Pixel and probably never will, as the consequences seem rather drastic. Deleting my old Gmail means all the stuff I’ve stored locally on the phone will go with it. I’m not quite sure what this entails, but at least I know my local notes will disappear and who knows what else.
It also means that my in-app purchases and anything I’ve downloaded from the Google Play Store will no longer be accessible. I haven’t bought many apps or games from Google Play, but I’d hate to lose the few I have. Honestly I would probably only have lost $30-40 bucks but it’s still not worth it in my mind. I would also lose all my app download history, and it would be a huge undertaking to get it all back. I’m feeling a little trapped by my old email on my Google Pixel, but there’s not much I can do about it right now.
The other issues with exchanging this account
Making this switch also made me lose access to other things stored in that account, including all my videos, folders, likes, and YouTube subscriptions. I was hoping I could import it into my new account, but that didn’t seem possible without using an external plugin. I had to go through my subscriptions and re-subscribe one at a time, which wasn’t too bad, but it did take a while.
Bookmarks were easy to export with little to no effort, although it wasn’t that simple with my plugins. I had to manually redownload them one by one which was annoying as some are quite unpopular so I had to copy the link to my address to find them all.
Going through all the accounts I used my old email address for and switching to my new email address took a long time, but it was actually the easiest part of the process. None of the services I used even bothered to send an account confirmation to my old email, which was quite convenient for me.
What it comes down to:
Changing Google accounts was an absolute pain in the ass. There are a few systems that have made this process easier, but a lot of it had to be done manually. There should be additional features to make this process easier, be it system export and import for Google Drive or YouTube.
And worst of all, this system isn’t very generous to people who don’t want to be reminded of what their old email was. As a trans woman who prefers not to look at my dead name when I open Gmail, this process produced nothing but headache after headache, and at the end of it I’m still not completely satisfied.