Recovering Google Workspace: A Detective Story

Originally published at: Recovering Google Workspace: A Detective Story - TidBITS

Google announced that it would require payment for legacy G Suite accounts earlier this year before relenting in May, albeit with a short deadline. One of consultant Ivan Drucker’s clients nearly lost her long-standing G Suite email address—and all stored email—due to not knowing who had set up the account many years ago. With the application of lots of electronic elbow grease and a dose of luck, he was able to recover her account.


I had a friend/client with a very similar story. All of her email and google docs went away because her legacy account was suspended. We did not know who the administrator of the account was. With her account suspended, she had no way to contact google support.

We found the form and requested that she be promoted to super admin, but of course google sent the info about that to her suspended email address.

I used my google workspace account to contact support and explained the situation. They told us about verifying the domain, so we did that, and got a reference number. Still no dice, since they still wanted to send an email. Luckily, my friend had a backup email (a yahoo account that is still active) listed on her google account. I chatted again and asked that the chat support person notify the Workspace support team to use that backup email. Within a few days, my friend received an email from support at that backup email assigning her as super admin and we were able to complete the steps to have her pay for Google Workspace. (This is when we realized that her web developer from 12+ years ago had set up himself as admin of the account.)

It was a huge relief to see her emails and google docs come back into her account.

In case it’s helpful, this is the email she received from support:” <>
Subject: [#######] IMPORTANT: Information about your Google Workspace account


We are contacting you because another user from your Google Workspace account has verified DNS ownership of domain [redacted for privacy, the domain).

Since all domain administrators appear inactive and unresponsive, Google Workspace Support has performed a verification process to grant the Super Admin role to [redacted info for privacy, an email address](mailto:email address). A super administrator is able to access the Admin Console ( and modify all aspects of the Google Workspace account [private info).

Please reply to this message if you have any questions or concerns.

Best regards,

Google Workspace Support


I can’t get to my GMail account without giving Google a cell phone number.

THIS is why I trust NO CLOUD SERVICE, even Apple. Any hiccup on their end, and you’re in Tech Support Hell with no recourse.

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I doubt there’s another person in the world who could have pulled this off. The Wayback Machine!


Thanks for this. Very similar situation!

I don’t know if that’s strictly true but thanks for the kind words! And yeah, the Wayback Machine! :wink:


I read Ivan’s report with my jaw dropping ever closer to the floor. It underlined A) what arcane systems Google operate, and B) what a star Ivan is. Respect! And I thought I was relatively tech savvy.

The story brought to mind one of my constant laments. Was a time when computer systems and apps were properly documented: originally on paper, then online. It seems that over the years more and more companies have resorted to instructions that build themselves over time, as users seek answers. This leads to incomplete information or, at best, chaotically organized information. Adobe, I’m looking at you.

My go-to source for decently written manuals has long been the Take Control series, originally published by TidBITS, now by Joe Kissell. If they don’t have a guide to a particular app/system, I feel lost. How about one on the arcane world of ISPs, DNS, IP addresses, etc Joe?


When the Wayback Machine got involved, I knew we were in epic territory.


That was a fun read. Thanks @IvanExpert!

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I spaced out on the date google would be turning off their free service and when I moved my mother over to iCloud Custom Email Domain I forgot that all her email was still on the gmail server. Should of just moved it / copied it to an iCloud mailbox. Anyway as soon as I disabled the gmail account her Mac it disappeared! All mail was gone!

I called up google and begged for an extension or a freebie for a week but they simply said I had to sign up with a credit card and then get the mail - then unsubscribe and payment would be prorated.

I recall when I went back to the admin page I was able to get the mail via on her laptop without subscribing so he must of flipped some magic switch. Ended well and all my emails are now hosted free (included in iCloud account) with Apple. Zero problems and now I have true push email. Of course caveats with this as I personally have sub emails on my domain and they all come into same email inbox - so if you have a company with Joe sue and harry at this would not work.

Thank you, @IvanExpert, for sharing your digital sleuthing story with us. That was a grand read!

May your story reach lots of readers so people realize the importance of properly managing their (admin) accounts. And just as importantly, that they understand a fundamental risk inherent in cloud-only/cloud-first services.

Because the typical usage paradigm for services such as Google Workspace is to edit documents in a browser, there are no local copies on the computer. Hence, if you cannot log into your online account for any reason, you lose access to all of your data.

Compare this to the paradigm of working on local files that are synchronized across devices via the cloud: As long as the hardware device works, the only account you need to successfully log into, is the one on the device. Working offline is just as trivial as having as many synchronized copies of the files on other devices or backup media as you’d like.

If main computer breaks down for any reason, you can access the data on other devices and/or restore it from backups. And you don’t have to rely on the responsiveness of a large company’s support team to do so. (That Google’s support closed the ticket due to a “high volume of callers,” so to speak, is rather unsettling!)

I do understand why businesses of all sizes find Google Workspace intriguing: it’s a complete package of the key productivity applications that a company needs; it promises near-zero maintenance effort on the side of the customer; and it’s reasonably prized.

And while large companies (should…) have the dedicated IT expertise to prepare for a scenario like the one you describe here, small and even midsize businesses might not be aware of the risk of losing access to crucial data because of a single point of failure, or about how to properly prevent that from happening.

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