HostGator Sucks! My Website Was Suspended Without Warning, Then They Demanded To See My Passport?
In an age of rampant identity theft, you’d think that asking for scanned copies of a “passport” would be reserved for, oh I don’t know… Homeland Security.
But here we are, well into 2014, and web hosting companies like HostGator (among some others) still believe they are entitled to ask for scanned copies of your “government identification” AND credit card, apparently – not to mention abruptly shutting off your website for unspecified reasons, based on some whim of some anonymous person working in some anonymous department of their company.
- See also: The Fastest Website EVER: How To Setup Your Domain, DNS, CDN, And Hosting Server For Crazy Speed
At least, that’s what happened when I recently launched a small WordPress website.
But let’s back up just a little bit.
More Invasive Than Airport Security
Prior to 2013, I had crossed paths with HostGator several times over the years, both as a web hosting customer and also referring several SMB clients their way. In general, they were always a pleasure to work with, and it was always an easy place to send clients because I knew they had reliable phone and chat support – plus, I kinda always figured they were “too big to fail.” I continued to refer clients to them long after I had personally ceased being a customer a few years ago – that is, until last week, when for some idiotic reason I chose to setup a microsite on their basic hosting package.
I had briefly forgotten that Endurance International Group – the “mafia” of the web hosting world, and the largest player in the industry – had acquired HostGator in 2012. (And in hindsight, I had noticed a very obvious decline in the quality of their affiliate program over the past few years, to the point of unsubscribing from their obnoxious, spammy newsletter updates.)
For years, I had read horror stories about their parent company, EIG, and its associated web hosting brands. Like so many others do, I figured those stories would never happen to me, and had not written off doing business with HostGator. (In fact, I’ve made thousands of dollars over the years referring people to HostGator’s services, so I have quite a bit to lose from cutting off ties with their company, even now.)
Boy, was I f*cking wrong.
A few days ago, I began working on a new website project hosted on the HostGator servers, and had saved all my data in WordPress using their control panel. That is, my payment via PayPal was already accepted, my account approved, and my HostGator server setup with all login credentials and FTP access already forwarded to me.
A few days later, I woke up and was ready to expand my Facebook advertising campaign (which I was using to validate a business idea by way of a squeeze page), when I happened to notice that for some reason, my entire website was missing. In its place was a page full of spammy ads and promotions offered by HostGator and their advertising partners. Like a band of dirty pirates, HostGator had commandeered my entire website during the night while I was asleep, and was profiting from all of my website’s traffic – without ever having said a word to me:
That’s strange, I thought to myself. I don’t remember asking HostGator to delete my website and replace it with spam that they profit from each time it is clicked.
I wanted to reach out and grab that smirking lady who had invaded my homepage without permission by the teeth and throw her across the internet.
Unapologetic, Unregulated, Monopoly
Figuring they must be having some critical datacenter issues or otherwise, I quickly hopped on their customer support chat portal – which by the way, had a wait queue of 30+ minutes BOTH times that I attempted to get help – and was connected with “Jason J.” who apparently is a Junior Administrator at HostGator. “I see we are awaiting the required government issued photo ID to verify your account,” he said, as if my inquiry was utterly stupid to begin with.
Not believing what I was hearing, I replied, “You suspend accounts without telling the customers? That is HostGator policy? If this had been an eCommerce site in the middle of an advertising campaign, HostGator’s policy is to shut down the site without contacting the customer, potentially costing them thousands of dollars?”
This was not the HostGator that I loved and remembered. Oh God, what terrible mistake had I made coming back to this company? I quickly went back and scanned through all of my emails, looking for any tickets or emails from HostGator telling me they were concerned about my account security, or requesting more information from me. What I found was a generic email from email@example.com that had been sent while I was sleeping asking for a copy of my credit card, despite the fact I had paid with a verified PayPal account, and despite the fact that my website had been up and running for 2 days already. (Note: I don’t even HAVE a credit card.)
Jason. J. replied with a few links to HostGator’s FAQ section, and then, without answering my questions, closed the chat session and disappeared from my screen.
I jumped back into the chat queue. Here’s the main shizz:
- HostGator (EIG) now only does business with people who turn over government IDs
- HostGator (EIG) now only does business with people who turn over credit cards
- HostGator (EIG) claims they “warn” customers within their Terms of Service that their site will be shut off if they don’t pro-actively send in government ID and credit card copies, despite not specifically asking for these items during the time of sale
- HostGator (EIG) will shut off your website at any time without letting you know, even if you haven’t broken any laws or any of their Terms Of Service
- I must wait an additional 48 hours to receive a backup of my files and database, meaning that I will lose a total of 3-4 days and XXX amount of money on this project
(4:03:51pm) Jesse: does HostGator only do business with people who possess a passport or driver’s license
(4:04:40pm) Nathan M.: We need to see some sort of government issued ID.
(4:05:32pm) Jesse: what if someone doesn’t have government ID, you discriminate against them? isn’t that like refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple
(4:06:27pm) Jesse: or is HostGator a division of Homeland Security, I’m confused
(4:08:15pm) Nathan M.: Let me Verify you as the account holder so that we can proceed. For security purposes, I will need to verify your identity by having you provide your account’s billing credentials in the popup that will soon follow this message. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
(4:08:28pm) Jesse: I ask, because my website was apparently suspended, without my knowledge, and I potentially lost thousands of dollars in advertising revenue because of this incident… the reason your team gave, before closing the chat suddenly, was that I never sent government ID… even though your team had never even contacted me about this during time of sale, or during my server setup, or when my site went live, or after I spent hours editing code which is now lost
(4:09:27pm) Jesse: I fail to see which policies of your company, or any laws, that I or my website broke and which justified shutting off my website without warning
(4:09:41pm) Nathan M.: We apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing at this time, however, we do include details about our verification
(4:09:55pm) Nathan M.: We apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing at this time, however, we do include details about our verification
process in Section 1 of our Terms of Service and I apologize if the verification process seems excessive, however this process
is in place to protect our customers, as well as ourselves from fraud.
(4:10:53pm) Jesse: what fraud? I paid with a verified PayPal account, what exactly is the risk your company is running? and no, you never told me to send any documents at time of sale, or during setup
(4:11:56pm) Nathan M.: We never said you committed fraud, we simply require verification for all incoming accounts.
(4:12:22pm) Nathan M.: It is your responsibility to provide accurate, current, and complete information on the registration forms, including an email address that is different from the domain you are signing up under. If there is ever an abuse issue or we need to contact you, we will use the primary email address we have on file. It is your responsibility to ensure that the contact information for your account, including any domain accounts is accurate, correct and complete at all times. HostGator is not responsible for any lapse in the Services, including without limitation, any lapsed domain registrations due to outdated contact information being associated with the domain. If you need to verify or change your contact information, please contact our sales team via email or update your contact information through the HostGator Billing and Support System. Providing false contact information of any kind may result in the termination of your account. In dedicated server purchases or certain other cases, you may be required to provide government issued identification and possibly a scan of the credit card used for verification purposes. Failure to provide the information requested may result in your order being denied.
(4:12:27pm) Jesse: why? I fail to understand how pre-paying with a verified PayPal account puts your company at any risk of fraud
(4:13:11pm) Nathan M.: These are our Terms of Service.
(4:13:38pm) Jesse: are you a robot Nathan or is this a real human I’m chatting with, I’m confused
(4:13:47pm) Nathan M.: I am a real human and not a robot.
(4:13:57pm) Nathan M.: I am stating facts from our Terms.
(4:15:31pm) Jesse: you seem to only repeat blocks of text provided to you by the system…
(4:16:18pm) Jesse: does your company prevent you from answering in ways that require not pasting blocks of text
(4:16:19pm) Nathan M.: You may view these blocks of text at this link http://www.hostgator.com/tos
(4:17:03pm) Jesse: Nathan, don’t get snippy, the new founding fathers are probably monitoring this chat
(4:17:30pm) Nathan M.: We take our security and our customers security very seriously. That includes our terms of service.
(4:17:38pm) Jesse: I’m still waiting to hear if HostGator only does business with people who possess a government ID
(4:18:18pm) Nathan M.: If any customer is unable to provide a government issued ID then we will be unable to provide services to them.
(4:19:23pm) Jesse: that would seem to go against certain laws that protect against discrimination?
(4:19:58pm) Jesse: or does HostGator see itself as a governmental organization of some kind
(4:20:16pm) Nathan M.: I am failing to understand what we are discriminating against when we require this from all of our customers.
(4:20:54pm) Nathan M.: We do not discriminate against certain countries, this is a policy that we have in place for all of our customers.
(4:22:40pm) Jesse: as I’ve broken no policies of your company’s TOS – which is a contract between me, the customer, and HostGator – you shut down my website for no reason other than I don’t have a government ID to provide you, correct?
(4:23:20pm) Jesse: and you did so without even warning me about your desire for my government ID, I woke up and my website was full of spammy HostGator ads, while my advertising campaign was beginning.
(4:23:47pm) Jesse: because you had parked my domain without even a warning, or an email, or phone call, or conversation of any kind…
(4:23:56pm) Nathan M.: You were warned about this in the Terms of service which you checked the box to agree to when you signed up for our services.
(4:25:19pm) Jesse: hmm, I didn’t check anything that says “HostGator will abruptly shut off your website for reasons they will not explain to until you wait for 35 minutes on their buggy chat portal to ask them why it happened”
(4:26:19pm) Nathan M.: In the terms of service it specifically states that
You may be required to provide government issued identification and possibly a scan of the credit card used for verification purposes. Failure to provide the information requested may result in your order being denied.
(4:27:21pm) Jesse: my order was already CONFIRMED… HostGator provided login details to my server, FTP passwords, and my files and database were already installed and my website live and running.
(4:27:57pm) Nathan M.: Yes and we provide limited access for a short time, until it is time to verify the account.
(4:28:30pm) Jesse: at no point during point of sale, or during server setup, or during my website going live was any request made by HostGator for any “government ID”… I went to sleep, came back, and my website was full of spam ads.
(4:29:24pm) Jesse: limited access for a short time? that was not limited, Nathan, it was full server access and my website was up running and live for nearly 2 days, and then abruptly shut off without reason by your team.
(4:30:08pm) Jesse: please explain to me which policies or laws I broke to warrant such treatment
(4:30:56pm) Jesse: your company potentially cost me thousands of dollars in lost advertising, besides the negative reputation of my business among my potential customers
(4:31:00pm) Nathan M.: This is not a policy enforced just on you Jesse I assure you, this is documentation required from all of our customers.
(4:31:52pm) Nathan M.: The sooner your ID is sent in the sooner your package will be activated and your site will be up and running.
(4:32:11pm) Jesse: wow, so you treat many other customers like this? ballsy, very ballsy
(4:32:54pm) Jesse: MY SITE WAS ALREADY UP AND RUNNING… do you understand Mr. Nathan? my site was up and running, my advertising campaign had begun, and you shut off my website for no apparent reason
(4:33:50pm) Jesse: I had to wait in your chat queue – twice – for 35 minutes, just to figure out what was going on.
(4:35:05pm) Jesse: your lack of remorse speaks clearly to the attitude HostGator has with its customers
(4:35:55pm) Nathan M.: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you, however I assure you this is not against you and you only.
(4:36:59pm) Jesse: I asked “Jason J” for a backup of my website, in a desperate attempt to get my site back up, which I’ve been waiting for now for over 2 hours, on top of the nearly 12 hours that my website has been shut down already
(4:37:54pm) Nathan M.: If you have received a ticket, this process can take up to 48 hours to receive your backup.
(4:38:22pm) Jesse: are you serious? after this entire story I’ve just shared with you?
(4:39:02pm) Jesse: I must wait another 48 hours for my data?
(4:39:57pm) Nathan M.: That is correct
(4:42:02pm) Jesse: is there anything else you’d like to add to this conversation, before I put it up on Reddit for thousands of webmasters to read?
(4:42:10pm) Nathan M.: Was there anything else I can help you with that has not been addressed already?
(4:44:00pm) Nathan M.: Do you have any other questions for me today?
(4:44:52pm) Jesse: I’m assuming that’s a “no”
(4:45:27pm) Jesse: if you send me a copy of your passport and credit card, I will send you a copy of mine… deal?
(4:46:15pm) Nathan M.: Do you have any other issues I can assist you with today?
(4:47:19pm) Jesse: I don’t even know your last name here Nathan M. …I mean seriously, why would I send a minimum wage support technician a copy of my passport and credit card?
(4:48:13pm) Nathan M.: Jesse you are not personally sending me your information, you are sending this to the company.
(4:49:24pm) Jesse: how do I know you aren’t going to turn around and sell it to the highest bidder like that fat chick did on CNN… who’s risking more here really… me or you?
(4:50:50pm) Nathan M.: Our company is PCI compliant, we do not sell any personal information from any of the customers we have.
(4:52:01pm) Jesse: even the TSA doesn’t ask for my credit card when I board a plane to London… but even if they DID… I sure wouldn’t give it to those power-tripping rent-a-cops
(4:52:31pm) Jesse: how does HostGator trump Homeland Security? seriously, I don’t get it
(4:53:32pm) Nathan M.: I am sorry, but this chat has drifted off the topic of web hosting related assistance. If you don’t have any further questions related to web hosting, I will have to end this chat.
77 minutes. That’s how long I chatted with Nathan M, but like a well-programmed cyborg he wouldn’t budge – not restoring my website, nor sending me a refund, nor sending me a backup of my website files and database.
I suppose if he’s making somewhere near minimum wage, perhaps I ate up somewhere around the $7.16 I initially paid for my hosting.
Meanwhile, EIG continues to devour competition, buying up every hosting company it can on its way to complete control over the North American web hosting industry. While the FCC debates net neutrality and forcing ISPs to become “common carriers” – in affect, something like public utilities – have we forgotten about Wall Street backed companies like EIG that are running an entirely different kind of net monopoly?