Google’s email nastiness

By Felix Salmon
August 18, 2010

gmail.tiff

Yesterday afternoon, I started wondering why my steady stream of emails seemed to have come to a halt. It didn’t take long to get the answer: emails to me were being bounced back to their senders as undeliverable, on the grounds that my Gmail account was over quota.

Naturally, I immediately paid Google the $5 they wanted to upgrade to 20 GB of storage from the free 7.5 GB. But the email is still bouncing, and Google says it could take up to 24 hours before they start letting it through again. When I log in to my Gmail account, 14 hours after I upgraded, I still get the warning message saying I’m out of space and can’t receive any emails. (Incidentally, the link to Google’s “tips on reducing your email storage” provides no such thing, it just pulls up a page telling me how much storage I have.)

There are two extremely annoying things, here, for an old-fashioned person like me who still relies to a large extent on email. I’ve been using email for 17 years now, and I’ve encountered my fair share of email problems along the way. But in every case, the email ended up sitting there on my mail server until the problem was resolved. When Google decides I have an email problem (that I haven’t paid them enough money), however, they don’t keep the mail on the server until the ransom is paid. Instead, they just declare “a permanent error” and bounce it back to the sender. That’s incredibly aggressive and rude, and means I will now never receive a large number of emails which might well have been very important.

More annoying still is the fact that Google never told me this was about to happen. I’ve never used their web interface: while I like the reliability and spam-filtering abilities of the Gmail service, I don’t like checking my email in a browser. So I don’t: instead I use Apple’s Mail applications on my computer, iPad, and iPhone. Had I logged in to the Gmail website, I would have seen a warning telling me that I was running out of quota. But not once did Google send me an automated email saying that I was about to run out of storage space.

When Chris Anderson says that the web is dead, he’s talking about new applications which are supplanting things we used to use the web for. What he doesn’t mention is that millions of people never made the switch to the web in the first place, at least when it comes to email. Google behaves as though everybody using Gmail uses the web interface, when a moment’s thought would show that to be false. And then it imposes a punishment on people who run out of quota or who delay too long in paying which seems out of all proportion to the crime.

In any case, if you’ve tried to reach me via email and the message has bounced, try resending your message — with any luck it’ll get through now. I just worked out that although the paying-for-more storage solution takes time to work, the deleting-spam-emails solution seems to work immediately. It would be nice if Google mentioned that somewhere.

Alternatively, send it to felix.salmon at reuters. I came close to running out of quota there, too, recently, but they became very insistent that I had to delete old emails long before they bounced anything. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but it was nothing compared to Google’s nasty and passive-aggressive behavior.

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