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Google suspends accounts used to resell Pixel phones for profit

Google’s new Pixel phones are the finest example of Android, but they’re also in terribly short supply. The wait on devices to ship has been multiple weeks since launch day, and that has led some device resellers to get creative. It turns out Google is taking a harder line on enforcing its terms of service than it did in the Nexus days. Dozens of users had their Google accounts suspended for engaging in device reselling this week. This has been jokingly called a digital death penalty.

When you purchase anything from the Google Store or Project Fi, you have to agree to Google’s terms and conditions. Among all the lines of legalese, there’s a clear prohibition on purchasing devices with the intention of commercial resale. So, if you buy a Pixel, it needs to be for your own personal use. There’s nothing stopping you from then giving or selling that phone to someone else later. However, the scheme being run by a phone reseller in New Hampshire was a large enough violation that Google took notice.

According to deal site DansDeals, the New Hampshire reseller was having users buy multiple Pixel phones and list the reseller’s location as their home address. Since the operation was based in New Hampshire, the reseller was then able to sell the phones at a slight markup without sales tax. The result was a small profit split between the original buyer and the seller.

The fatal flaw in this plan was that thousands of orders were placed for the same address. Google noticed and suspended all the accounts that sent phones to that location. It was within its rights to do so, too. According to the Google terms of sale, “You may only purchase Devices for your personal use. You may not commercially resell any Device.” If your Google account is suspended, you lose access to everything—photos, email, documents, music, and so on. Those affected were understandably panicked.

While it seems at first like a clear overreaction, you can also sort of see Google’s side. For one, this looks a lot like fraudulent activity. Thousands of phones going to one place? Suspicious. Even when Google figured out the scheme, this is the kind of behavior that you as a consumer should want Google to stop. If resellers can just buy thousands of phones and mark them up, that lowers the supply of devices for people to buy directly at fair prices.

This tale has a happy ending, though. Late yesterday, Google decided to re-enable the suspended accounts, with the understanding that no one should attempt this again. The whole incident does raise concerns about the state of your Google account data. Something that isn’t even your fault can trigger an account suspension, and then all that information is gone. It’s a good idea to use Google’s Takeout tool on occasion to download an archive of your account data.

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