OK Google. How Do I Remove Hangouts?

October 13, 2014 Technical Issues

“OK, Google.  How do I remove Hangouts?”

This week, my Google Talk / Google Chat/ Hangouts account wasn’t connecting inside my third-party chat client.  The chat account uses a Gmail address that I don’t use for email.  As a troubleshooting measure, I went to verify that the password was still current.  It was, but upon logging in using my current password, Google indicated: “We’ve noticed unusual activity on your account” and gave me a chance to enter a phone number to get a verification code in order to reset my password.

One problem.  I have NO phone number on file with Google, period.  However, I was given no other option to proceed.  So I entered a phone number to an office telephone at my current employer.  No one I know has this number, even my closest friends and family – it is a private internal number.  Even my coworkers don’t know this number (although they could find it).  It worked – Google called with a reset code.  I could have entered any phone number – in fact, I did.  If my account had been hacked or inappropriately accessed by a person or group, Google just re-opened access to them.  Do I think that a Google account I don’t even use was breached?  At this point, no.  Do I think that Google was after some more information on me?

Possibly.  Probably.  Definitely.

Why?  One reason:  every time I logged into to a Google service over the past couple of years (including Gmail and YouTube), Google had been presenting me with a screen to add new account recovery options.  They weren’t interested in email information though… they only requested phone numbers.

Upon Google’s re-opening access to my account, I went through the email logs.  No messages had been sent out for months.  No new messages had been received for months.  Again, this is an account I don’t use for mail, so all was normal.  In addition, no new chats had come in or gone out from the Gchat service, nor had I received feedback from any of my contacts that odd activity had been noted (no spam).  Then I checked YouTube, the only other Google service linked to this particular account.  Again, I found zero signs of abnormal activity.


Incidentally, after resolving the alleged account issue with Google my Gchat is still not working.  I can’t connect with the new credentials even directly through Google/Gmail (though I’m logged in and can do everything else, including emailing or uploading a video to YouTube).  This may not be related to the original sign-in issue, but a frustrating result nonetheless.  According to an acquaintance, Gchat/Hangouts was working just fine in his neck of the internet-woods.  For me, it simply says “Loading…”

I get the same result inside my third-party chat client.  No dice.

And for the icing on the troublesome cake:  during my troubleshooting and recovery efforts, I discovered that Google has been logging all my chats – yes, the ones that were received through a third party chat client.  “OK… so it’s just a default setting that’s turned on.  I’ll go turn it off”, I thought to myself.  No.  Similar to emails that go through Gmail servers, Gchat/Hangout chats are logged and logging cannot be turned off, except for “individual chatsaccording to Google.  Note the 2nd paragraph below:  “…but you cannot turn chat history off for all of your chats.


Google keeps your chat hisotry, even when using a third-party chat application.


Based upon my experiences and findings today, I’m leery – at best – about continuing with Google in this way.  I have already removed my Google Hangouts account from my third party chat application.  What stinks is that I’m a big fan of many of their products and services, including Android.  We all know that our online activities can be easily analyzed, especially by Google, which is why I don’t use them for email.  I purposely have withheld information from them because I know they use it – it’s how they make their money to support tens of thousands of employees and continue to develop and innovate.  But the awareness of their chat system never struck me because I never read about or researched their chat logging policy.

This isn’t new – privacy concerns have swirled around Google and their competitors for years.  But back to the issue… was my account breached?  Why could I recover it with literally any phone number I wanted?  If there is a chance that Google is stooping to methods like these just to get information from a single average web designer in the Midwest, it may be time to take some action.