Do Users And Businesses Have Legitimate Gripes With Gmail?

    August 20, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google is making waves with Gmail a lot these days for a variety of reasons, and this week, users are freaking out about something the company said in a court document regarding email privacy. Combine that with the new compose box that is getting people riled up, and the recently launched tabbed interface, and a lot of people are finding new reasons not to like Gmail.

Have any of these events influenced your thoughts about Gmail as a user or as a business? Let us know in the comments.


A 39-page court document (via TheVerge) has Google saying:

Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

On the surface, this may look like Google is saying that Gmail users shouldn’t expect privacy, but this quote that has drawn so much attention is actually in a section about “non-Gmail plaintiffs”.

But that hasn’t stopped some from running wild with the story. Frequent Google privacy critic Consumer Watchdog, for example, put out a press release under the headline, “Google Tells Court You Cannot Expect Privacy When Sending Messages to Gmail — People Who Care About Privacy Should Not Use Service, Consumer Watchdog Says.”

Consumer Watchdog says.

Even The Daily Show managed to get in a jab, saying on its Facebook Page:

TDS Breaking News: Google: “Gmail users can’t legitimately expect privacy.” Just like Google can’t legitimately expect us to use Google+.

Even if there is no real issue here, perception is a whole different story. And it probably doesn’t help Google that this also follows a recent marketing campaign from Microsoft designed to create unease with Gmail’s privacy policy, not to mention the whole PRISM thing. People aren’t exactly trusting of big companies when it comes to privacy these days.

The Compose Box

But this whole privacy discussion is really only one part of the current backlash against Gmail, and the others are very real things that Google has implemented for better or worse.

Back in October, Google began testing its new compose box. In March, Google began rolling it out to everyone, though it was still optional. This week, the company announced that it will no longer be optional. Users are going to need to get used to it.

The problem is that a lot of users aren’t getting used to it. In fact, a lot of users just downright hate it. Personally, I don’t really see the big deal, but people have been quite vocal about it in comments on our coverage of the feature since it rolled out.

There have been quite a few comments like, “new gmail compose is absolutely terrible” and “Absolutely the worst interface ever.”

Again, I just don’t see it, but clearly a lot of people agree with these.

Google has even gone so far as to provide users with the option to make the compose box full screen, but users still aren’t into it.

New Gmail Compose Box

“Now that that option is available, we’re saying farewell to the old compose and switching everyone to the new compose over the next few days. The new compose opens drafts as a minimizable window so you can write multiple drafts at once, keep an eye on incoming email, adds support for inline images and much more,” says Google in a Gmail Google+ post.

A more recent comment, which again, is after the inclusion of the full-screen option, says:

Everything is hidden and needs more clicks. It reminds me strongly of MS Vista. Sure it had improvements but many things were buried under more clicks and more mouse movement. I hope Google comes to their senses quickly. Or maybe everyone in their management uses tablets for 90% of their work now and they are out of touch with people who use a mouse and keyboard with a “real” computer.

So frustrating. I can’t remember ever feeling the urge to find an alternative to gmail before but I definitely felt it today. No, I probably won’t switch, but that’s only due to the hassle of it…

More comments like these continue to roll in even as I write this.

Finally, the new tabbed interface.

This one is easily fixable if you don’t like it. You can adjust the settings to basically make your inbox look the way it used to. I haven’t seen quite the amount of online backlash over this as I have over the compose box, and that’s probably why. Most of the people I have talked to about the interface immediately adjusted their settings to revert back to the old style as soon as the new one was thrust upon them. I’m still using the old style on one account and the new one on another (personal/work). I honestly haven’t made up my mind on which I prefer.

Regardless of what users think about, it does present some new things for businesses to think about in terms of getting their email messages viewed by consumers (yes, consumers who have opted to receive such messages).

It’s still early, but there is some research out there, and it’s actually not so bad for businesses. The good news is that those who were already engaging with marketing emails are doing so more with the new interface.

Last week, we looked at research from Return Path, which showed that users who are “routinely engaged” with marketing email are reading a slightly higher percentage of their marketing email now – an increase of 2.11%.

On the flip side, the study found that read rates have dropped to around 10% for Gmail users who have had a “medium engagement” level with marketing email (which makes up 88% of all Gmail users, according to the firm). Those with the lowest engagement level read far fewer marketing messages dropping from 2% to 0.4%.

Engagement levels in gmail interface

Again, this is early research, and we don’t know how many users are actually using the new tabs. It’s still something marketers are going to have to show some level of concern about.


When it comes to redesigns, new features or any other issues with online services, the disgruntled ones are always the most vocal, so regardless of how many complaints there are about any of these things, it’s not necessarily an indication that Gmail is going to lose many users.

It’s hard to say if any of this will lead to any significant change in webmail market share, but competitor Yahoo is having a hard enough time keeping users happy itself. Perhaps Microsoft does have something to gain.

Are you concerned about Gmail privacy? Do you like the new compose box? How about the new tabbed interface? Are any of these things making you rethink your Gmail use, or how you conduct your email marketing? Let us know in the comments.

  • Angelo Gino Kasino

    As a Business with employees that use Gmail… It upsets me to NO END that my employees now have to LEARN how to use the NEW VERSION.

    This is on MY DIME.

    This COSTS ME in productivity!

    Google does not even make it SIMPLE…. they think everyone must have PHDs in Computer Science.



  • http://www.roomdarkeningshadesguide.com Jason

    It’s a free service, and because of that, people will learn to adapt. Google makes it so easy to create an email address, and at NO COST of course, that most individuals will learn to deal with the new interface. Anything’s better than paying for something you can get for free, right?

  • http://www.armadilloweb.com Michael Gordon

    I am not too turned on about either the security issues or the UID. If I need to send a secure message and content I will exchange Security Certificates and send the message over 128 bit encryption. The UID is not an issue because I only use Gmail for sending large e-mail attachments that will not go through my ISP mail box.

    If there are so many people who hate Gmail with the new upgrades they can always download and install the free Thunderbird E-Mail program and use their own ISP POP mail service, after all they are paying for the service.

  • http://nagualgrove.com/ Howard Crane

    Yes, recent developments have definitely changed the way I think of Gmail. And indeed ALL free services.
    Who the hell do I think I am? Who the hell do you all think you are? FREE!?! We’re fooling ourselves. Every business must turn a profit. If you’re not being sold something in a transaction, then in all likelihood you are the one being sold.

    I realise now that if I want things a certain way, I’ve got to pay for them to be like that or the people offering that wont survive or will commoditize me.

    F*ck all these complaints. We got exactly what we paid for. And we paid nothing, so we should stop expecting anything more than nothing. Goddamn people…

    • Shaun P

      That’s rubbish. They make their money because their services are free, The value is in the volume and they can only get that by offering service such as email and search for free. That is their business model and they should listen to their users.

    • Sarah

      It is my understanding that these changes also apply to the paid version of gmail. No?

  • http://KeithJamesDesigns.com Keith James

    I’m actually going old school and rolling up my own mail server. At least this way only the NSA, the Chinese and the Russians will be reading my email.

    If only I could get them to delete everything that isn’t important.

  • pgadeyne

    Gmail is only the tip of the iceberg, I would be wary of using any of Google properties for business. Last year, we used Google Docs to collaborate on a new projects with a new client. Nobody knew about the project except for a handful of people and they did not share that information.
    Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from a Google salesperson asking if they could help me set up a campaign naming the client in question. When asked, the person refused to answer but the only place they could have mined the information from was Google Docs
    Suffice to say, we stopped using Google Docs and Gmail immediately

  • Don’t Be Evil

    I do not like the new compose feature that Google is now imposing on Gmail users and realize that I am not alone in this feeling. I don’t mind that Google wants to innovate and make changes, that is what I liked about the company in the first place. I am prepared to be somewhat inconvenienced by changes that don’t work, problems etc. To me that is all in the spirit of where Google started by keeping things in Beta. The Beta concept is quite conspicuous in its absence regarding how the company is proceeding now.

    I don’t mind change, but I don’t like being told how I should or do feel. My objection to the new compose feature is not an objection to change in general, it is an objection to this feature. The new compose box is small, it is at the bottom of the page, it hides basic information such as the subject, recipients, etc. that I want ready access to and is in general unwieldy to work with.

    There are many changes that I do like. For example, I like the new tabs in Gmail. The communication that I hear from Google as a company, however, is that not liking the new compose box is my childish reaction and that I will like the new feature just as much if not more when I get used to it. I don’t care for that presumption. It is, I believe, the very presumption that Google intended to avoid by informally stating the slogan “Don’t Be Evil” early in its development.

    For those at Google who may read this post please recognize that I am writing this because I feel a loss. I feel betrayed by a brand I once wholeheartedly endorsed and now cautiously tolerate with the hope that it will change.

  • http://www.braidwooddesignstudio.com Judit Kovacs

    I only use gmail for non-consequential email especially when I do not want the recipient associating me with my web site. And because of this, I do not think much of a business using gmail as their official mail because I think: 1. what have they got to hide? 2. can’t they afford to have a proper web site with email free? 3. they don’t want me to see their web site? or 4. they have a webmaster who did not give good advice.

    Moreover: if you don’t want anybody to read it, don’t send an email, a post, etc.

    • Sarah

      Lots of business that have a website use gmail as their email client, with a customized email address such as: name@website.com

      There are both paid and free versions of this, and both have been forced to use the new compose.

  • https://www.searchen.com John Colascione

    I am certainly not a fan of the compose window, but the tabs I find helpful and a welcome addition to Gmail.

  • http://www.seventhman.com/ Shaleen Shah

    I’m more concerned about the privacy issue than the compose box, no matter how people may find this change quite annoying. But then again, privacy seems to be a matter of perception these days and you really don’t know if someone’s snooping on your data until that breach…

  • http://saheltech.com Alex

    The need to adapt is the price to pay for the free service gmail provides. I use hotmail and it has gone through several UI changes and most recently a complete switch to outlook. People need to nderatand the Internet is still young and needs to evolve. Tha means new ideas will be implemented and sometimes imposed.

    As for the security matter, people there is no security when you send information online through regular http. It can be intercepted by a malicious third-party. Personally I would rather have Googlebots read my email for targeted marketing purpose than someone else I have no business with.

    We live in an age where we get some many things for free online hat we forget someone else is paying the price for it. Microsoft might tell you bad thing about gmail yet they are doing the very same thing. So please get over it. If you are transmitting sensitive information online, email is not the medium to do it not certainly a free service.

    • JD Ohio

      Your use of the term “free” is misleading. Google benefits from those who use its services — it is not like Google is not making a profit or is being charitable. An ethical, smart company would care about its users and those who contribute to its profits. Google obviously has no concern or respect for its users. With this latest example of arrogance, Google has lost my trust. I will be moving on to other things.

  • http://www.cartridgesave.co.uk Alex

    This is a real First World Problem. I have no issues whatsoever with Gmail, or the G+ update to hangouts. The whole office uses it and we all find it very intuitive and easy to use. No problems.

  • Carlos

    “Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient’s [email provider] in the course of delivery. Indeed, “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

    Is it the same principle used or will be used with google documents and cloud computing????

  • http://www.allpipe.co.uk Richard

    We often get approached by fraudulent ‘companies’ or ‘business persons’ wanting to buy goods on Mastercards etc. Inevitably they are using Gmail or Yahoo email accounts. If google has the ability to read these emails, trace IP addresses etc then perhaps it could Do No Evil and give a helping hand exposing these people who are using their services for free – as they try to rip of the rest of us….

  • eggsonthesmile

    In defense of austerity, I am the growling onion and I go ROOOAAARRR! GRRRRR! Always contemplating my fart in a skillful and thoughtful manner. Timing is key…

  • Shaun P

    The new compose is appalling, we are exploring alternatives for our businesses. It feels like it’s the right time for a new player to release a high quality cloud email and storage service. One that doesn’t make the mistake of being stubborn and ignoring its users.

    I do genuinely believe Google is going to suffer from these issues. One because they are serious, two because they won’t take them seriously. Big mistake. Everything comes to an end, and whilst I’ve been a huge support of Google and Gmail for such a long time, I want to support something new.

    Google feels like an arrogant organisation to me now.

  • JD Ohio

    The compose box (truly awful)is the last straw for me. Google is always trying to jam things down my throat. I guess there new thing is turn gmail into a teenage messaging application. Just recently it forced me to link my email to youtube. (I have legitimate security concerns about that which doesn’t matter to Google, which cares nothing about users.) Will be switching to other applications as soon as I can. Really a shame that what was once a good company has turned into such a disgusting mess.

  • http://www.robfg.com Robert Gross

    What is needed now is personal encryption software that can be used and interfaced to the different mail services such as Gmail,Yahoo, Hotmail and so on. Also versions that would interface with our local mailbox handlers like Outlook, Thunderbird, and etc. Only those on your personal mailing list would hold the keys for your messages. Not a foolproof solution by any stretch but would add a layer of security and create a necessary expense to providers with the urge to plunge into our emails. It would be especially vexing to would be snoopers if the keys were changed on a daily basis.

    A person could compose, encrypt, copy and paste his/her messages to the mail providers.

    Just random thoughts–

  • Linda

    As a business – if you want security – don’t use a public email. Seriously?

    If a business or an individual has issues with change – then better move to a cave – this is 2013 people – things change rapidly everywhere. If it takes more than a moment to figure out how to use a new window – get smarter employees. And finally – the tabbed feature is outstanding. I like that the junk that gets through, still gets sorted out and I don’t have to have it hit me in the face immediately – I can do that on my free time where I don’t have anything better to do than to read junk. Which is never.

    Thumbs up to Mr. Crain – you are right – it’s free – if you want something else – pay for it. Or go to Yahoo – and get killed with spam. Or AOL and waste your time waiting for it to work. And the old Hotmail – whatever it is called these days – you’ll have the opportunity to get a lot of porn through their filters.

    Good luck all you grumblers.

    • Simon

      Actually, Linda, I do pay for gmail. As do the small business I do consulting for. No more, I might add. The issue isn’t learning the new interface, it’s in how much more difficult it is to use for regular, standard issue business correspondence. BTW, Winston Churchill was considered a ‘grumbler’ by American heros like Joseph Kennedy and Henry Ford. (Godwins law 1- Simon -0) Grumbling can get annoying, especially if you are a fanboi/grrl of the target, or just don’t see the point but there is absolutely no other way to try to get the message to Google that they shouldn’t make the lives of their paying customers harder just so that teenagers and the mentally challenged won’t be confused by too many options visible at once. But actually, the new interface is considerably harder to use for the elderly, if I go on an anecdotal report by a care home nurse I incidentally spoke to about this. Enjoy your use of the tabbed window, I have no issue with that as it can be switched off. But changing an interface so fundamentally, and in so many arguably negative ways is not the way to keep business users happy.

  • toni graeme

    I got a new In Box today from Gmail and have lost every single email and files related to them!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a dreadful company!!!!!!!!!!!! They may not have proper privacy protocols but worse they do not have many users in mind………they should be putting a box on the screen telling users how to access their email list! What an email company this is to use for business, it goes down the tube! I have lost hundreds of contacts. Bah on Gmail and Google!

  • Sarah

    I don’t mind the new compose for personal mail, which in my case is pretty basic. But for my business gmail accounts it is IMPOSSOBLE. I use a lot of CC, BC, copy and paste, inserting canned responses, and these things take about 3 x longer to accomplish with the new compose. It is very sad that Google has shot themselves in the foot with this. I’m shopping for a different option.