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back to article Does Gmail's tarted-up tab makeover bust anti-spam laws?

Anti-spam experts are openly wondering whether Google's redesigned web mail service Gmail violates US laws against bulk unsolicited messages. The CAN-SPAM Act (passed in 2003) makes the mass distribution of commercial electronic mail legal as long as the messages are properly formatted, include correct contact information and …

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This is the second time I've read about these ad/e-mails

Yet was confused as I hadn't seen it.

I guess AdBlock is doing its job!

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Re: This is the second time I've read about these ad/e-mails

I don't have AdBlock but I'm not seeing these ad/emails on my promotions tab, just actual emails from Amazon and a few other shops.

Are the new adverts only visible in the US?

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Re: This is the second time I've read about these ad/e-mails

I've not seen it because they ditch advertising if you pay for some storage, which being on the legacy storage plan @ $5 / year for 20GB seems eminently reasonable.

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Re: This is the second time I've read about these ad/e-mails

Not only have I not seen these ads but I don't even have the tab.

Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums? Nah all I see is Primary and Updates. Why would I want the others? I'm even considering getting rid of the Updates tab but occasionally I find an interesting app from the the Play emails.

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@ Shrimpling

My reaction after wading through the first few paragraphs was: WTF?

I'm a US user of GMail for work and personal use and I have not noticed anything. Yes, I was annoyed with some sort of announcement that they were once again twiddling with my inbox and some new tabs appeared. But I live in the primary tab which still shows me everything and I'm quietly ignoring the rest. After realizing the corporate one isn't showing the tabs I checked my personal and clicked on Promotions. I still have no idea WTF the article is going on about. Granted I may have embedded wetware ad filters, but I think I'd notice it if I were actively trying to see it.

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Why not just close the Promotions tab? It's optional, so just get rid of it.

Frankly if you're the sort of person that buys something because it popped up on an unsolicited email in your inbox, you get what you deserve.

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@Ad Fundum

Are you funded by the Ad industry?

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How do you close it? There's no obvious way to do it.

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Gear Icon>Configure Inbox.

Not exactly difficult...

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Stop

Optional... for now

From Google's past history, I'm sure it won't be optional in about 6 months.

Ask Android users running Jellybean about Google's "fuck you, you *will* have a search box in Google Maps and all your home screens"

I'm able to install another homescreen app, but Google Maps still has the goddamned search bar permanently taking up a good chunk of my screen.

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Re: Optional... for now

And add the fact Jellybean users *will* be getting adverts in Google Maps too. Poor sods.

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Re: Optional... for now

What planet are you on? I have Jelly Bean and do not have a search box on any of my home screens. Maps does have a search box but I don't find it intrusive and they have to put it somewhere.

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Click on the + sign at the edge of the last tab, check the boxes for the tabs you want.

I too haven't seen any of the 'gemails', and actually think this is the most useful addition to an email inbox I can think of.

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FAIL

Re: Optional... for now

The action bar used to take up more space than the search bar does now, so you've actually got more area dedicated to the map in this version than in previous versions, and especially so on tablets.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Optional... for now

That's a definition of "entitled" right there.

Put another maps app on if you want but it's ... a friggin' search bar. Google have probably done research that most people who go to the maps app want to find something, an address, a place, a shop, whatever. They are not usually interested in "where am I right at this moment in time" (sometimes you will but probably rare).

So for efficiency they decide that their app would be better served by removing all the clutter apart from just a search bar. Fair enough, it's their app, it's only a search bar, even makes sense.

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Anonymous Coward

Mail protocol not used

Is it transmitted over SMTP? Nope?

Therefore it's just an ad in an email-viewing interface.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mail protocol not used

So if a spammer logs into hotmail and sends a message to other hotmail users, that's also not an email? It stays on the hotmail servers so doesn't travel over SMTP.

Same for any other webmail system.

email can travel over LMTP, UUCP, sneakernet, etc... not just SMTP

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Holmes

Re: Mail protocol not used

Indeed. If it comes from within exchange its just a database update.

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Re: Mail protocol not used

"Is it transmitted over SMTP? Nope?

Therefore it's just an ad in an email-viewing interface."

As far as I can see, there is no requirement in the Act for an 'electronic mail message' (which is what the Act is concerned with) to be transmitted via any particular protocol or method. From the statute text, section 2(A)

(2) Commercial electronic mail message

(A) In general

The term "commercial electronic mail message" means any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose).

Similarly the definition of exempted message types - the 'Transactional or relationship message' in the statue chapter, section 17(A) - does not seem to apply the adverts as described here. As such you'd hope, perhaps vainly, that any legislators pursuing this will apply the appropriate duck-typing to the adverts, especially with respect to the provisions against deception in the Act.

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Re: text of law

Since I can't see whatever the hell all this fuss is about, and we're now splitting hairs about SMPT etc.; let me ask this question:

If the advertisement is a frame on a webpage that is formatted to look like an email but is otherwise a normal advert, does the act apply?

As I recall part of the reason for all the uproar originally is we were downloading the spam into our mailboxes, sometimes over dial up. Which is where the transmission part comes into play.

Frankly, the stuff is supported by ads an mining your user profiling data. If you aren't paying for it, someone else is, and you accept those terms when you accept the free stuff. And yes, as indicated above I am a gmail user.

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Re: Mail protocol not used

From a comment in the link on the Reg article:

"Per 15 USC 7702 sec.(3)(6), “[t]he term ‘electronic mail message’ means a message sent to a unique electronic mail address.” Pretty vague definition."

I expect the ads are being sent to a Google Account rather than a Gmail address, which would make them no different to ads you see on other websites. Having them look and function like an email is interesting (I've not enabled the new style tabs myself to experience this) but unless they're permanent I don't see a problem. If the same advert is there when you log out and log in again, then I'd call it an email and suggest the law needs updating. The same goes for if they get downloaded to mail clients.

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Mushroom

Google being Google.

Business as usual.

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Anonymous Coward

Use Thunderbird

Problem solved

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MCG
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Re: Use Thunderbird

Yes, and about a thousand other more annoying problems introduced, since Thunderbird is the pits :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Use Thunderbird

MCG Brings you a reply sponsored by Microsoft.

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JC_
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@AC

MCG Brings you a reply sponsored by Microsoft.

But Thunderbird is a dog - slow, ugly and full of annoyances. Save an attachment and there's no option to open the location. Switch folders and your "Quick Filter" has disappeared when you return. Reply to an email and the original email window stays around. The user experience is dreadfully unpolished.

Despite that, I still use Thunderbird in preference to Outlook (2007), which shows you don't have to be a shill to criticise it.

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Not on Google Apps?

No sign of the adverts here, I'm using Google Apps though so perhaps that makes a difference?

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Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

I don't want spam in my inbox, thus I create email rules to filter it all.

If your faux email ads bypass my filters, I will add your Ad Server to my HOSTS file & stop you dead in your tracks.

I already access my Gmail through MS Outlook, since Outlook is more Accessable than your Web UI.

Think about that a second.

A *Microsoft* product is MORE Accessable than your web interface.

How screwed up do you have to be to be beaten by *Microsoft* in a UI contest?

When the same nimrods that spat forth the MetroUI are doing a better job than you, it's time to take yourself out back of the barn & put a bullet through your head.

So, by accessing Gmail via Outlook, I have thus far avoided having to view your crappy ads.

But if I find them arriving in my Outlook Inbox, so help me Cthulhu, I'll switch to my *ISP* hosted email account, because at least they don't send me anything other than a monthly reminder of my bill.

Oh, my ISP is Comcast, so if I would switch TO them FROM you, think about how hard you suck to have accomplished that.

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Linux

Re: Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

"So, by accessing Gmail via Outlook, I have thus far avoided having to view your crappy ads." -- Outlook or Adverts, hhhmmmmm, I think I choose death.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dear User. STFU & GTFO

Thank you for your wonderful opinion on our services.

If you are unhappy about our services then please feel free to follow the instructions on this page:

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/32046?hl=en&ref_topic=2382753

Regards,

Google.

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MCG
Happy

Re: Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

Seriously? You're finding Gmail's UI challenging? Haw haw haw. Oh you septics kill me, you really do.

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Re: Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

skeptics or septics LOL

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Re: Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

You tell them Shadow Systems. In fact, if I were you I'd ask for a full refund.

Tard...

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Re: Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

You've mistakenly sent this to the El Reg forum, whereas google customer service would probably be a better bet, since you're addressing them in the voice of an INTERNET HARD MAN!

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Re: Dear Gmail. STFU & GTFO.

There is something to the whole interface discussion, IMHO. GMail's web interface used to be nice and uncluttered, but no longer. I am forced to use Outlook on work systems, and I cannot fathom how *that* UI is supposed to be any use at all, and Thunderbird is, as a previous poster has said, lacking in anything that might be termed as a pleasant user experience. I don't hate the GMail interface enough to look for other options at the moment (X-Notifier and GMail Notifier do a good job of letting me know when I've got new mail, and which box), but it surely cannot be so hard to come up with an easily configurable interface for on-machine email clients, can it?

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CAN-SPAM is toothless

I've been receiving e-mail from a US company (Grainger FWIW) for a while. Of course, I've unsubscribed but to no effect.

I read up on what I can do to stop it: the answer, as far as I can tell, is pretty much nothing. CAN-SPAM seems to be largely about running mail servers and little to do with consumer protection. Can't say I'm surprised.

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Re: CAN-SPAM is toothless

Keep reporting them as spam. You spam filter will soon just get rid of them for you.

About this Promotions tab, I've largely been using it as a secondary spam folder, so I can't say I care much what happens in it…

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Re: CAN-SPAM is toothless

It's all about having the right mail provider. A good one will block the domain/IP at the mail server at your request.

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Re: CAN-SPAM is toothless

Unfortunately, this is on a corporate mail server with Outlook as the client so I have no Bayesian learning filters. E-mails have been reported upstream as spam and, guess what, they still keep coming.

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Re: CAN-SPAM is toothless

"...The CAN-SPAM Act (passed in 2003) makes the mass distribution of commercial electronic mail legal as long as the messages are properly formatted, include correct contact information and give the recipient the option to unsubscribe..."

Bah. YOU CAN SPAM Act, more like...

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Re: this is on a corporate mail server

Of course they do. The sender is a legitimate business that sends legitimate promotional email. So every time the mail team blocks it in response to your request, they get a complaint from one of your compatriots that they have stopped getting their Grainger messages and please put it back. Not the guy who's been whacked with it, just the guy who was a fly on the wall for it. At least in this instance I can see the business case for it. Admittedly not a business case I'd buy, but at least a paper thin one that can be made. I never did understand how to do that for the Golf Magazine messages for one of the guys in the accounting department.

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WTF?

Promotions tab?

where is the promotions tab? I've never noticed it, and I can't see it now having looked for it in my Gmail. Is this a US only thing?

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Re: Promotions tab?

@Richard 22:

In GMail, click on the cog icon under your username. Go to "Configure Inbox". This should give you an option to enable tabs you want to use, and Gmail automatically sorts stuff into one of the tabs.

I tried it, didn't like it, and turned it off. Maybe the "email expert" blowhards quoted in the article could try that out, since what they describe is not really any different to the way GMail in a web browser shows ads elsewhere....

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Re: Promotions tab?

Ah right, thanks. I use Priority Inbox, so wasn't seeing the tabs. Trying them quickly now, I think I prefer priority inbox (though a combination of the two would be quite nice)

Certainly, if disabling the Promotions tab is enough to remove what they're complaining about then that would seem to negate their argument.

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Re: Promotions tab?

Since it appears to default to off they didn't really have an argument to negate!

...and when I tried turning it on, still no ads anyway.

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This molehill is dressed up as a mountain

> these advertisements are dressed up as email messages

Hadn't noticed the ads myself, as I rarely visit the promotions tab. so I went to have a look. Under my promotions tab, above and spaced from the "genuine" emails, was one ad, highlighted and labelled as such. The only thing it had in common with the "genuine" emails was the respect for sender and subject column alignment.

Basically, Google couldn't have done it much better, IMO.

Certainly, if the alternative is returning to the "good old days" of running my own mailserver and endlessly reconfiguring spamassassin in a futile fight against floods of spam ... then I think I'll stick with Google for now, thanks.

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Re: This molehill is dressed up as a mountain

If you'd said that 12 months ago I'd have agreed with you. However the false positive rate on gmail's spam filter suddenly jumped a LOT about 9 months ago (though false negatives are still pretty rare) - so much so that I had to work out how to disable it so I don't lose emails as messages in the spam folder get automatically deleted after 30 days (and if you fetch your email via POP3 to store locally and only rarely use the web interface as I do, it won't retrieve the spam folder so you won't even know). It wasn't just me either - several family members started missing important emails due to this at around the same time.

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Tabs? Where we're going we don't need...tabs.

Tabs lasted all of about 7 seconds in my inbox, can't recall ever seeing an ad dressed up as an email.

As others have said, these aren't mail items, just ads that appear similar to emails. Sneaky perhaps, but hardly a huge intrusion.

For anyone unhappy with this then I suppose they are free to refund Google for all the money they've paid for their service.

Oh.

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Don't like ads in your FREE email service, then 3 simple solutions are to pay for email, install ad block or use Gmail via IMAP/ POP with a email client and then you won't see them.

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Anonymous Coward

Not much use and not actually very convenient and you _can _ get rid of it BUT:

I just wich google would have had the SIMPLE BLOODY DECENCY ASK FIRST BEFORE SCREWING AROUND WITH MY STUFF

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