Do Users And Businesses Have Legitimate Gripes With Gmail?

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...
Do Users And Businesses Have Legitimate Gripes With Gmail?
Written by Chris Crum
  • 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.

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