There are any number of reasons why you would need to reach a human representative for a Web site. When attempting to contact Google, Facebook, or another big online service, phone calls, letters, and generic e-mails to the company are likely to get you absolutely nowhere.
Back in July 2005 I wrote an article for PCWorld.com titled "Web Site Help: Is Anybody Out There?" that counted the number of clicks required to find a contact e-mail and toll-free telephone number for 12 popular sites.
That article came to mind recently when I was contacted by a reader from Australia who was having a problem reaching someone at Facebook to complain about an offensive Facebook page. The reader said a letter he sent to the company's Australian offices was returned after having been opened but marked "return to sender." The reader claimed he received no response to a letter he sent to Facebook's U.S. headquarters.
I considered repeating my "find the contact information" tests, but things have changed in the eight years since I wrote that article. Major Web services don't offer conventional customer service for their "free" services (Yahoo is an exception, as I describe below). Instead, they rely on their automated "report a problem" links.
What do you do if reporting your problem via these mechanisms gets you nowhere? Storm the gates of their fortress-like offices? Rail against the unfairness of the world? Don't waste your time writing nasty letters or trying to penetrate the company's automatic telephone system to reach a human.
Your best bet is to register your complaint at a consumer protection agency. But don't hold your breath waiting for a resolution to be served to you on a silver platter. The converse of the old adage "You get what you pay for" is "Don't expect something for nothing."
Here's how to find the "report a problem" links for 10 big-name Web services: Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Craigslist, Tumblr, Instagram, Yahoo, and Pinterest.
Google's limited options for reporting problems
Google's "Contact us" page (shown at the top of this post) includes an option to report a "safety or abuse issue." Start by choosing one of the 19 categories of services (such as Search, YouTube, or Orkut) and problems that include "Phishing: Gmail," "Report errors: Google Maps," and "Report privacy concerns: Google Street View."
Most of the options simply direct you to more information at a Google Help site for addressing the matter yourself, such as how to request that a Web site remove information appearing in Google search results. In some instances the report wizard explains how to find the specific service's report feature. Two examples are the report options built into Google Maps and Google Street View.
The "Legal inquiries, trademarks and permissions" section of the Google contact page links to instructions for requesting removal of illegal content, reporting inappropriate use of a Google trademark, and requesting permission to use Google content.
Facebook's built-in report options
The only practical way to contact Facebook is to use one of the service's many options for reporting a problem or violation. Facebook Help Center pages explain how to report a violation, how to report a bug, and how to provide general feedback (don't expect a response).
Another Help Center page explains what happens when you report something, including how to check on the status of something you've reported and how to delete an errant report.
Facebook recommends that you notify the service of problems by using the Report link located near the content itself. For example, click the down arrow next to the gear icon in the top-right corner of a message and choose Report Spam or Abuse to report the message to the company.
Twitter responds to complaints of unresponsiveness
As CNET's Edward Moyer reported late last week, Twitter has pledged to get tougher on people who tweet abusively following recent rape and bomb threats in the UK. According to company officials, a "report abuse" button will be added to the mobile and Web versions of the service.
The Abusive Behavior page on Twitter's support site explains what content the service considers unacceptable. The "Report a violation" section of Twitter's help site provides a form for reporting an abusive user as well as one for requesting help resetting your password and another for reporting someone impersonating you.
You can also report that your account has been hacked or that you've encountered illegal or inappropriate content.
The Twitter Rules list dozens of prohibited activities, most of which entail some form of spamming. Among the Twitter taboos are username squatting and following/unfollowing large numbers of people to gain attention.
A more extensive chronicle of Twitter dos and don'ts is offered in the service's Policies & Violations. The "Report a violation" section of the page links to information on more than a dozen topics, including guidelines for law enforcement and what to do when someone posts your private information.
For example, the instructions for reporting a tweet for violation are to click or press the three-dot icon, choose Report Tweet, and select one of the menu options. Your report options are Spam, Compromised, Abusive, and Block account. If you choose Abusive, you're directed to a form for providing more information.
LinkedIn options for reporting problems, violations
Everybody forgets their passwords now and then. It's more likely to happen for services that we don't use regularly. For me, one of those occasional services is LinkedIn: I may sign into the service only once or twice a month, so I often need to use its password-reset feature.
If you've lost access to the e-mail account you used to sign up for your LinkedIn account and are unable to reset your password, you can use the service's Contact Us form to request an alternative sign-on method. An article on the LinkedIn Help Center recommends that you add a second e-mail address to your account to prevent being locked out by a lost e-mail account.
The same Contact Us form can be used to report a duplicate profile or a name field violation. The LinkedIn Help Center explains how to report spam and inappropriate content or profiles, as well as how to spot and report phishing attempts.
The LinkedIn Safety Center recommends that users notify the service of security vulnerabilities by using the email@example.com address rather than via forums or comment fields. The company requests that you use its PGP key when reporting such vulnerabilities.
YouTube promises fast turnaround on privacy complaints
The YouTube Reporting and Enforcement Center gives you an overview of your options for reporting problems related to content on the site. Topics include how to flag videos, how to appeal account suspensions, how to appeal removal of a video you uploaded, and your other reporting options.
When you use YouTube's privacy complaint form to notify the service of a violation, Google promises to respond within 48 hours. The only caveats are that you have to clearly identify yourself in the video and indicate via fields at the bottom of the form that you believe the content violates your privacy and that the information you're providing is accurate.
YouTube's privacy complaint process entails multiple steps: you're asked whether you're being harassed, whether you've contacted the uploader, and whether you've flagged the video for violating the service's Community Guidelines. You're warned that abuse of the complaint process could lead to your account being suspended.
The YouTube help site provides information for reporting defamation, trademark, counterfeit, and copyright violations. You can also request that YouTube investigate a legal matter.
Craigslist's straight-ahead contact-us form
Two ways to reach the Craigslist contact form are by clicking "help" or "about" at the bottom of the home page, and then either "contact us" under "general help" or Contact Form under "using craigslist." A link to the form is also included on the Craigslist security page.
The form asks you to select one of nine types of issues, three of which relate to reporting spam or a scam, harassment or flagging, and law enforcement. You're asked for your name, e-mail address, and location. The last two fields ask you to enter a subject and a description of the issue.
Tumblr's all-purpose 'contact us' form
Instagram ties into the Facebook help ecosystem
You can also contact the service about abuse and spam by clicking or pressing the three-dot icon below the item and choosing Report Inappropriate, as per the Instagram Community Guidelines. An online form is provided for reporting exposure of private information and other violations of the guidelines.
Other forms let you report a deceased person's account and report a convicted sex offender who is using the service.
The Instagram Help Center explains how to report copyright infringements via an online form. Another Help Center page covers reporting trademark infringement and includes a trademark-infringement claim form.
The Something's Not Working section of the Help Center has a form for filing a bug report. The Information for Law Enforcement page in the Privacy & Safety Center explains what is required for the service to disclose account records. Requests can be sent to the firstname.lastname@example.org address or by mail to the Facebook street address: 1601 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025. (The general support e-mail address is email@example.com.)
Yahoo stands out for its toll-free telephone support
Clicking the Feedback link at the bottom of the Yahoo home page leads to a forum where you can post comments about the site's new look. Prominent at the top of the feedback page is the service's toll-free support number for people who are having problems signing into their account: 1-800-318-0612.
I have no idea whether the folks fielding calls at the number are helpful, nor how long it takes to reach a human. But a Web service offering any kind of free telephone support is a plus in my book.
When you're signed into your Yahoo Mail account, click the gear icon in the top-right corner and choose Send Feedback to open a form you can use to submit a comment or suggestion. Alternatively, you can select the Online Help link to the right of the form to open the service's help site.
Under the Quick Links section on the right side of the main help page is one labeled Contact Customer Care (nothing wrong with a little alliteration). Select a category and sub-category from the drop-down menus to view a possible resolution to the problem.
Click the Email a Support Agent link below Yahoo's proposed solution if the information didn't solve the problem. Fill in the form fields with the details about your situation, enter the captcha, and click the Send button.
Pinterest tries to keep its customer contacts simple
The Pinterest Help Center doesn't have a separate "contact us" link, but you can click the red Email Help button at the bottom of each article to open the service's "Submit a request" form.
The Arbitration section of the Pinterest Terms of Service also links to the form you use to contact the service via e-mail. The form asks you to select a topic for the problem and then requests your first and last name, user name, the type of device you're using (Computer, Android, iPhone, or iPad), your preferred browser, a subject, and a description. You can also attach files to your message.
The Pinterest Help Center lets you check the status of pending requests. The Contacting Pinterest section of the Help Center indicates that it may take several business days for the company to respond to your request.
Pinterest's Copyright & Trademark page links to a Copyright Infringement Notification for reporting DMCA violations. The page also indicates that you can file a counter-notice to a claim of a DMCA violation by sending it to the firstname.lastname@example.org address.