Apr 032008

This year for April Fool’s Google announced their “Custom Time” feature for Gmail that lets users to send their emails … before they sent them.

In other words, Gmailers can roll back the timestamp so it looks like their email was sent on time. They are, however, only limited to 10 of these a year, lest “people to lose faith in the accuracy of time, thus rendering the feature useless.”
Of course, this announcement was just an April Fool’s joke — or was it?

I’m writing this post for the benefit of anyone trying to reach me. I’m not sure where the breakdown has been occurring, but lately I’ve not been getting some of the email sent to me. Or if I do get it, it’s three days after it was sent. Even the US Postal Service can beat that kind of speed.

The problem seems most acute for people writing to me at my alumni.berkeley.edu address, which happens to be the address I’ve given out most regularly in recent years… While I think perpetual forwarding aliases are a great thing — you don’t have to worry about losing touch with people if you switch jobs or ISPs — and I like impressing people with my Cal alumni status, the vendor the alumni association partnered with has already given me concerns. I once discovered, to my horror, that they’d slapped on an anti-spam filter, filtering out any email it believed to be spam before forwarding it on to me. Yes, spam is a scourge, but this was a terrible “solution.”

For one thing it is quite wrong, possibly even legally, for an Internet communications provider to intercept people’s Internet communications without their consent. In this case they were doing so not only without people’s explicit consent — they were doing it without telling them they were doing it at all. Secondly, this practice becomes extremely problematic when this surreptitious filtering silently deletes the email you DO want to get.

To analogize with regular mail, maybe lots of people really would like it if the USPS didn’t bother to deliver their junk mail. But if you were actually waiting for a catalog, and the USPS refused to deliver it without telling you, you’d get upset. And you REALLY wouldn’t like it if not only did they stop delivering your catalogs, but also your letters from grandma. Because that’s what was going on here, when the vendor’s so-called spam filter was filtering out any and all emails sent from Asia. Which was extremely inconvenient to discover, seeing how I was then in the midst of planning a trip there…

After some angry correspondence I got the vendor to turn off the “feature” for my account, but I have to question the worth of a vendor who would think it wise policy to disconnect the alumni of a Pacific Rim university (in fact from the university campus you can actually SEE the Pacific) from the entire continent located just on the other side of it…

So when problems started arising in recent weeks, I was inclined to believe it was once again the vendor’s fault. Which may well have been the case. But it also could have been Google’s, which uses its own spam filter on its incoming emails. I do like this type of spam solution better than others, because at least by happening more locally I can have a chance to review the filtered-out emails before they get deleted. Which turns out to be a good thing sometimes.

I got this email from my friend yesterday, announcing she was switching email addresses because her old one was getting too much spam:

While I could [get another account pretty easily on my current server], I have instead chosen to take advantage of the built-in spam filtering that many online hosts provide.

But I almost didn’t get it, since Gmail had decided to label it as spam…

Anyway, the moral of this story is that anyone who needs to get in touch with me should probably, at least for the interim, use cathyg at this domain, as it’s relies on an email service I seem to have a bit more control over. The old csua.berkeley.edu address also works too, although its servers have had a few catastrophic hosings in recent years that have made it somewhat unreliable. Amazingly, my first ever email address, which I sought out as soon as I came to campus way back in 1992, still works too, although I haven’t given it out in years.

All these addresses currently point to Gmail, which I use as my mail client for the moment. I like that it means I can see my email on my Treo. I also like that it means I can handily “star” items that will need further action. I much less like that it means that I don’t always get my email, and so for that reason my time with Google mail may be limited.

And perhaps it may be better if you just call me.

 Posted by at 8:50 am

  One Response to “Gmail time”

  1. Many schools don’t feel they have a choice about adding spam filters to mail they auto-forward off-campus. AOL/Yahoo/MSN and others consider the forwarding server to be the originating server for spam filtering purposes. What this results in is that large universities end up forwarding large amounts of spam to the forwarded location (aol/yahoo… etc) which aol/yahoo attribute to the university mail server and then begin blocking all mail from that server as a spam spewing server. In short, forward mail==forward spam== forwarding server is a spam server according to aol/yahoo== no mail from university to aol/yahoo.
    This has been a recurring issue for many universities and there was even a large recent thread on the HEEA list (higher-ed email managers list with lots of big .edus on it) about yahoo blocking many big schools and the difficulty in getting unblocked. There have been many previous threads about other mail services but aol and yahoo seem to be the most frequent problems.

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