Gmail and the Decision for Inaction

4/29/2006 12:45:00 pm

I've been using gmail since mid January and I love it. It's far and away the best email program I've ever used. One idea I read about (I forget where) involves setting up a second gmail account to use as online storage space. As of today, you get more than 2.7 gigabytes of disk space with a gmail account. Using the second account, over the summer, I plan to upload all the docs I've created/use in my classes to my second account. Gmail has a built in tagging feature. I'll tag each uploaded file with the course(s), topic and any other relevant tag I can think of. Then, when I need something I can search by tag, find it and download instantly from anywhere I may be. Some may think this naive but I suspect my data will be safer on Google's servers than they will be on my school division's servers. In any event I'm also keeping back ups on my home computer.

I shared this idea with other teachers in the Whiplash! workshop I gave in March. Two other teachers picked up gmail accounts and plan to use gmail in the same way; one account for email and another for storage.

Three weeks ago we learned, to our surprise, that while we were receiving email from colleagues they weren't getting any from us. I did some digging and learned that our division has blocked all gmail addresses because of the incredible volume of spam being sent to division accounts sourced to gmail. It was straining the server capacity. I asked them if they would white list just our email accounts and they immediately agreed. Problem solved?

This past week we again discovered that our gmail accounts were being blocked. Another phone call. Another conversation with someone who really did want to help me. This time they couldn't. After white listing only two gmail addresses the spammers wormed their way back into the division email system. They had not hijacked our accounts or done anything using our addresses. It was just that when all addresses were blocked there was no spam. When even two addresses were white listed spam proliferated. We can receive email at our gmail accounts we just can't email anyone in our division from those accounts.

I don't know enough about the filtering technology involved to carry this "argument" forward any farther. They are very sympathetic to my position at the school division but a couple of people wanting gmail access doesn't outbalance the need to protect the entire division from spam. They asked me if I would be interested in a hotmail account. I said no. It's not that a want an outside emailer, it's that I want the gmail emailer. Curious, I asked "Why do you ask about hotmail?" (Which is also blocked by the filter.) The answer: "Well, we had the same problem with hotmail. We contacted them and they have taken steps to block the offending IP addresses from their system. We've made several appeals to Google. Their response is to inform the US federal government. They are not willing to address the problem themselves they way hotmail has."

Google is famous for their principle of "do no evil." Well you "do" things by action and by inaction. The decision to not take action in the face of spammers using their service to attack public schools falls in the category of "doing evil by inaction." C'mon guys! You're so much better than that!! .... aren't you?

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