telephoneLately I have been getting telephone calls from Google. Do you get them, too? The numbers they come from are in many different cities but the callers always ask to speak to the business owner (that’s me) so I can claim my business listing and my free web site from Google. But I don’t want a business listing and I don’t need a free web site, I explain. Please take my name off your list. Then they tell me the first of many lies: “We can’t take you off our list.”

Resistance is futile.

Actually the script varies a little and sometimes they say “we won’t take you off,” not “we can’t take you off.” And once when I asked them to stop calling, just as I was hanging-up the phone, the Googler on the other end said, “We’ll talk with you tomorrow.”

Google has always had a reputation for terrible customer service — simply the worst. I concluded long ago it was because Google values algorithms, not people, and certainly not customers. That we’re sentient beings with questions and concerns and real lives and kids doing homework is just an inconvenience to Google. “Just give us the money” is what they mean. But what’s happening lately is Google has become aware of its business mortality and the limits of free sushi and dry cleaning. The company is trying to cut costs and raise revenue and that means — shudder — actually reaching out to real people like me.

And here’s where it goes over the line with me. It’s not their collection agency-like discipline and unwillingness to back down, it’s the really big lie they tell. Here, too, the script varies a little from call to call. Sometimes they say that if I don’t claim my business listing I won’t appear in the first page of Google search results. Sometimes they say that if I do claim my business listing and accept my free web site that I will appear in the first page of Google search results. And lately they sometimes say that if I don’t claim my business listing and accept my free web site then I won’t appear in Google’s search results at all.

Here is the transcript of a recent such message left on my voicemail. If you are reading this on e-mail the transcript is all you get, but if you are actually on my blog page you can listen to the message, itself:

“Need to discuss with the business owner as well. Press one to speak with an agent now and claim your listing. If you do not press one to claim your listing your customers will not be able to find you online. So press one now. If we’ve reached you in error or you’re not the business owner. Press nine now and you’ll be removed from this list.”

Is Google threatening me? That’s what it sounds like to me.

And pressing nine accomplishes nothing at all.

Let me tell you how offensive I find this. I can deal with threats. Bring it on. If I can stare down Microsoft and IBM, Google doesn’t phase me. But this isn’t the usual “we hate what you write about us now do as we say or we’ll bury you” threats I receive. In this threat from Google I don’t even exist for them as a person or a business. I am nothing to them except a potential source of money.

So when I speak to an actual person and they promise to get me on the first page of Google search results I ask the caller, “what specific search terms are we talking about? Are you telling me that if someone does a search on the term “marshmallows” that my name is guaranteed to come up?”

“Do you make marshmallows?” one caller replied.

“Aren’t you supposed to know?” I answered. “For that matter, how do you know I’m not already appearing in the first page of Google search results? You don’t know, do you?”

Of course they don’t know. They know nothing about me.

So Google is harassing millions of us with these phone calls. They are trying to instill fear in us. They are implying knowledge they don’t have and results they can’t deliver. For that matter, the results they say we’ll get absolutely won’t — literally can’t — happen if we all say “yes” at the same time. And even if just a few of us say “yes” it won’t happen, either, because it’s just a lie.

Remember Google’s corporate motto is “don’t be evil.” Well this is evil. Maybe not Saddam Hussein or Idi Amin evil, but it’s evil made worse by the very gleeful way that Google refuses to take “no” for an answer.

So if you work for Google and are reading this understand I don’t care about claiming my business listing, I don’t care where I appear in your search results. I actually prefer readers find me by old fashioned word of mouth. However I am very much offended by the possibly illegal way you are conducting this business.