July 4, 2014

E-mail addressed to me intended for someone else

So you are receiving e-mail in your account that is intended for someone else.  It's bothersome if it was sent to your exact e-mail address.  It's confusing if they are using an address similar to yours differing only by a single character or perhaps capitalization.  It's scary if it was sent to a totally different e-mail address.

So why are you receiving this person's private e-mail, and what can you do about it?

This article is going to explore some of the reasons why you might be receiving e-mail intended for someone else from a slightly more technical point of view.  For Google's simpler overview on the subject you can see:  https://support.google.com/mail/answer/10313?hl=en and for another excellent article see:   http://gmail-miscellany.blogspot.com/2012/08/wrong-email-gmail-dots-issue.html

We will somewhat arbitrarily divide this problem into two cases:  that of receiving e-mail to a similar address as yours, and that of receiving e-mail to a totally different address.


Messages sent to an address similar to your own.

Question:  What's the difference between the following US phone numbers?
  • (123) 456-7890
  • 123-456-7890
  • 123.456.7890
  • 1234567890
Answer:  Nothing.  While the syntax is different, they each represent the same unique phone number owned by a specific individual.

Question:  What's the different between the following Gmail account names?
  • first.last@gmail.com
  • firstlast@gmail.com
  • First.Last@gmail.com
  • firstlast@googlemail.com
Answer:  Nothing.  While the syntax is different, they each represent the same unique e-mail account owned by a specific individual.

There are several differences allowed in the format of a Gmail address that do not actually represent a different account.  This means that an e-mail address can contain any of these syntax differences and it still represents the same unique account.

Gmail ignores dots (periods, full-stops, ".")

Gmail does not treat dots in a GMail address as significant.  That is, first.last@gmail.com is the same address as firstlast@gmail.com or any other combination like f.i.r.s.t.l.a.s.t@gmail.com.  Gmail simply allows users to enter a dot as a convenient word separator, like you add dashes or dots when writing your phone number.  And since Gmail does not allow the creation of duplicate addresses, it's physically impossible for both first.last@gmail.com and firstlast@gmail.com to exist as unique accounts.  Once one form of the address has been created, all other forms will be rejected as a duplicate (the account already exists).

This has always been true since Gmail first was introduced in 2004.  And even then, people were posting about it.
April 30, 2004:  http://www.errorik.com/archive/2004-04.htm
July 17, 2004:  http://itsmygmail.blogspot.com/2004/07/gmail-address-variations.html

Here's the current Gmail help article on the topic of dots in Gmail account names: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/10313?hl=en

Gmail ignores capitalization

Similar to the above, the case of the characters in a Gmail address is not significant.  That is, first.last@gmail.com, First.Last@gmail.com and FIRST.LAST@gmail.com all represent the same account.

As stated in the "Username" section of the article at:  https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/1733224
Username. You will use your username, which will also be your new Gmail address, to sign in to your Google Account. Your username isn’t case sensitive, and you can use letters, numbers, or periods.
Gmail treats @googlemail.com as equivalent to @gmail.com

The domain googlemail.com was used in a few countries (like the United Kingdom and Germany) in the first few years of Gmail.  But no matter which of the two domain names is used in an address, it still represents the same account.  In fact all mail addressed to a @googlemail.com address is delivered to the matching @gmail.com account.

More information about googlemail.com can be found here:  https://support.google.com/mail/answer/159001?hl=en

Why am I getting their e-mail?

So if you own all forms of your address (ignoring dots and case) then why is someone else using your e-mail address?  To start with, they absolutely do not own a duplicate copy of your account using a dot/case variation of your account name.  You already own it and duplicate accounts are not allowed.  They created a different and unique e-mail address.  They probably started with first.last@ and discovered that account was taken.  So they might have added a middle initial giving them first.m.last, or perhaps a number at the end like first.last.56@.  Whatever they added, it resulted in an account with a different name than yours of first.last@.

The problem came when it was time to give someone else their address or use it to register at a web-site.  They remember what they wanted (first.last@) not what they actually created (first.m.last@) and give out or use the wrong address.  The result is that any e-mail sent using that address, is correctly sent to where it was addressed (you).  This means you are receiving those messages which are addressed to you (first.last@) but actually intended for someone else (first.m.last@).

So how do I fix it?

The only way to resolve this problem is to get the other person to realize their error and start using or giving out their correct address.  But given that you don't know who they are or their actual e-mail address this can be hard to accomplish.

Contacting the web-site they used your address on is seldom effective because they typically don't understand the problem and don't want to get involved.  Contacting individual senders may only be helpful if they understand the problem and have another way to contact this other person.

The best option is if one of the messages you receive intended for them has some contact information like a phone number.  You can then call them.  Here are some tips for trying to resolve the issue.
  • Start by expressing concern for their privacy because you have been receiving e-mail that was intended for them.  Listing some senders or web-site names can help prove you really are getting some of their e-mail.
  • Do not be confrontational.  They probably aren't doing this on purpose because most people want to receive the e-mail that is intended for them.
  • The problem started because they don't know their actual e-mail address.  So if you ask them what their address is expect them to say it's the same as yours (perhaps with dot/case differences).  But that doesn't mean it is the same as yours (since that's impossible).  That's the whole problem, they don't know their actual address and are using the wrong one.
  • The easiest way to show them their actual address is to have them click on their picture/avatar and have them read the address from the top/right of the drop-down panel.
  • You can also have them send you an e-mail (yes, they may believe they are sending it to their own address).  The From and Reply-To header fields should contain their actual e-mail address.
With a little patience you can help them figure out their correct e-mail address.  Be sure to remind them to update any web-sites with the correct address as well as notify any contact that may have the wrong address saved.


Messages sent to an address totally different than your own.

The other case is when you receive e-mail addressed to a totally different account than yours.  It may be just slightly different with an extra/missing character or two (for example first.last@ and first.last.56@), or it may be a completely different name which shares nothing in common.

The simplest situation is when your address is in the Bcc field (which means it is hidden) and another address is in the To field.  This is most common for spam messages which are often sent in groups addressed to similar addresses.  One address is in the To field, and the rest in Bcc.  So if you receive spam addressed to someone else, your address was also included but in the Bcc and you can't see it listed.  Receiving such a message does not indicate any sort of delivery problem.

The more complex situation is when someone mistakenly setup forwarding from their account to another account, but much like the dot/case problem above, they forwarded it to an address they thought they owned (but are wrong).  You will often need to look at the full message headers to identify this situation.

To see the full headers of a message, click next to the Reply button and select "Show original" from the drop-down menu.  A new tab will open that will include the full headers of the message.

We will now look at a number of actual headers collected from Gmail help forum posts that demonstrate some of the ways one might get a messages addressed to someone else.  In these examples the actual e-mail addresses have been changed to protect privacy.  We'll use first.last@gmail.com to represent your address, and first.m.last@gmail.com or someone@blahmail.com to represent the address the message was actually sent to.  We'll also throw in a fake sender address and server names to complete the headers.  To save space and simplify the examples, most of the header content will be excluded retaining only the significant parts that prove the forwarding.

Gmail Forwarded To Gmail

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to spot case is when a Gmail account is forwarding to another Gmail account.  This is obvious because Gmail adds X-Forwarded entries to the header documenting the forwarding.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
X-Forwarded-To: first.last@gmail.com
X-Forwarded-For: first.m.last@gmail.com first.last@gmail.com
Delivered-To: first.m.last@gmail.com
To: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
From: <sender@sourcemail.com>
Headers are read from the bottom (where the To, From, and Subject lines appear) up to the top (where the finally Delivered-To line appears).  So these headers show the message being delivered to the address specified in the To line, then forwarded on to the final destination.

These cases are interesting because Gmail requires e-mail verification while setting up the forwarding.  That means someone with access to the receiver's account had to click a link to accept the forwarding (whether anyone remembers doing it or not).

Other Provider Forwarded To Gmail

Sometimes other providers will insert a record into the headers to show forwarding, but they can be a bit harder to spot that Gmail's X-Forwarding records.  For example:
X-Get-Message-Sender-Via: root.blahmail.com: redirect/forwarder owner someone@blahmail.com -> first.last@gmail.com
But generally, forwarding from other providers to Gmail can be a lot harder to identify because often there is no clear forwarding record added to the headers.  Sometimes the only way to tell is by watching the message progress to the specified server and then suddenly switch to Gmail, as in this example.  There may not even be a Delivered-To entry to show it arrive at the specified address.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
Received: from gateway.blahmail.com ([5.9.45.195])
        by mx.google.com with ESMTPS id s1si20675769
        for <first.last@gmail.com>
        Thu, 29 May 2014 05:58:16 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from host.sourcemail.com (host.sourcemail.com [192.185.82.230]
        by gateway.blahmail.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 8063E660000
        for <someone@blahmail.com>; Thu, 29 May 2014 07:57:36 -0500 (CDT)
To: someone@blahmail.com
From: sender@sourcemail.com
So the message progresses from the sender's server (host.sourcemail.com) to the receiver's server (gateway.blahmail.com) destined for someone@blahmail.com and then suddenly switches to the Google server (mx.google.com) destined for first.last@gmail.com when the forwarding re-directed it.  There could be a Delivered-To entry in there, but, like the case above, there may not be one.

Server Forwarded To Gmail

Sometimes the forwarding can take place as the server level as it possible with Google Apps accounts.  In this case the forwarding takes place when the message arrives on the destination server, but before it is delivered to the specified address.  Similar to the above, the message can suddenly change direction without any signs of a Delivered-To entry.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
Received: by mail-pa0-f51.google.com with SMTP id kq14so4423283
        for <first.last@gmail.com>; Fri, 09 May 2014 06:19:23 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from server.sourcemail.com (server.sourcemail.com. [208.74.105.157])
        by mx.google.com with ESMTP id px17si1832577
        for <someone@blahmail.com>;
        Fri, 09 May 2014 06:19:23 -0700 (PDT)
To: someone@blahmail.com
From: sender@sourcemail.com
In this case blahmail.com is a Google Apps domain.  The message is re-directed just like account forwarding, but there is no forwarding in the account.  It's actually defined at the server level.  There are no X-Forwarded records since it never got to the account to be forwarded.  This is common with Google Apps for Education accounts.

The key here is that it was received by Google servers for someone@blahmail.com before being redirected to first.last@gmail.com.  Since Gmail always adds X-Forwarded records, that meant the forwarding was done before it reached an account.  In this case the server forwarding was confirmed by the poster once the probable cause was pointed out.

Use Of Bcc

Just to round out the header examples, here's a case where the Bcc header was used.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
Received: from server.sourcemail.com (server.sourcemail.com. [65.54.190.149])
        by mx.google.com with ESMTPS id cw6si22943103
        for <first.last@gmail.com>
        Thu, 03 Jul 2014 00:16:29 -0700 (PDT)
From: <sender@sourcemail.com>
To: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
Bcc:
In this case there are no other servers involved because the message was sent directly to the final account (no forwarding involved).  It's confusing because of the different address in the To field and the fact that there is no indication of all the other recipient addresses.

It's interesting to note that this specific example included an empty Bcc record which acts as a sort of hint or indicator that there are additional hidden recipients.  But there is no guarantee that and empty Bcc record will always appear in the headers.

Fetching Instead Of Forwarding

There is one other rare case to consider because sometimes the path of messages doesn't involve forwarding at all as in this example:
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
X-Gmail-Fetch-Info: first.m.last@gmail.com 1 smtp.gmail.com 995 first.m.last
Delivered-To: first.m.last@gmail.com
To: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
From: sender@sourcemail.com
In this case the message was properly delivered, but then was fetched by the final destination using POP3 (Settings->Accounts->Check mail using POP3).  What made this case interesting is that the user didn't remember setting up the POP3 fetching and so was surprised to be getting e-mail addressed to a different account name.

Alternate Reply Address

One final case to mention is the use of an alternate reply address in the message someone might send.  In Gmail it's specified in Settings->Accounts->Send Mail As.  So a person may send a message from first.m.last@ with a reply address set as first.last@.  So when the receiver replies, the message goes where it is addressed:  first.last@.

The difficulty with this is there is no way for you as the receiver of the message (intended for someone else) to know what happened because it's correctly addressed and delivered to you.  The only way to identify this case would be to see the headers of the original message that was replied to.  There may be a Sender or Return-Path line in the header showing the actual sender while the From line shows the alternate reply address.
Delivered-To: someone@blahmail.com
Return-Path: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
Sender: first.m.last@gmail.com
From: <first.last@gmail.com>
To: <someone@blahmail.com>
The only reason this may come up is if you reply to someone@ telling them of the wrong address and they respond that all they did is reply to the message they received.  What would be the hint of what is going on if you chose to investigate.


Summary

So what does it all mean?

First, you can be confident that every message in your account was addressed and properly delivered to your account (or perhaps fetched from another account).  There are no delivery errors.  That does not mean the message was intended for you, just that it was addressed and delivered to you.

Second, you can be confident that no one has the same account name as yours (including caps or dots).  If you receive a message intended for someone else but addressed to you it is because someone gave out or used the wrong address.

Third, it may take some work to figure out just how the message got to your account.  It's easy if they accidentally used your exact address or a similar address (dots, caps) in error.  It's clear such messages will be delivered to your account.  But it will probably take a study of the full headers to identify the cause (forwarding, fetching, Bcc) when the e-mail address is different than yours.

Finally, you can also be sure that while you do appear to be receiving someone else's e-mail because they are using your address in error, they are not receiving your e-mail.  Your e-mail is still addressed to and delivered to your account as normal - it cannot arrive in someone else's account unless it is address to their (different) e-mail address.

So don't panic if you receive e-mail intended for someone else.  The e-mail system didn't make a mistake delivering it to you, although some person may have made a mistake addressing or forwarding it to you.

April 18, 2014

Adding Attachments to Gmail

This article will briefly review the changes made to the image insertion and attachment interface in Gmail that was introduced in April 2014 (Official Gmail Blog post).  If you are interested in information about viewing and downloading attached files, the following article will be helpful:  Attachments in Gmail

When the new Gmail compose format was introduced in 2012 (Changes to Gmail Compose) the interface for attaching and inserting inline images also went through some significant changes.  See the above article for screen-shots of the new compose interface.  The 2014 update made a minor change to the list of attachment options:  the old camera icon for inserting an inline image has been replaced with a picture icon (plus the word "new", temporarily).




You may have some or all of the above icon choices.  Each icon has a pop-up description as shown in bold in the following list.

Attach Files - opens a file manager window to find and attach files from your computer.


Insert files using Drive - opens a viewer so you can select documents from Google Drive which are added as links to your message.  You can also drag-and-drop or use a file manager to add a new file to Google Drive and then add a link to your message.

Insert Photo - opens a view so you can add images inline or as attachments from various sources.


Attach money - allows you to send money to people using Google Wallet.


Insert link - allows you to insert a link to a document or page on the internet.


Insert emoticon - provides a selection of colorful emoji to add to your message.


Insert invitation - allows you to send a Google Calendar invite.



Clicking on the Insert Photo icon opens the totally re-designed image insertion dialog.




If you have not placed any images in your Google+ Photos page then you will see this page instead.




You will notice four tabs along the top which define the various sources from which you can insert images.




Although if you don't have Google+ in your account you will have fewer choices.




Photos - This tab shows the same data and photo thumbnails as the “Highlights” tab in Google+ Photos, except that there will not be any pictures owned by other people.  You may select multiple photos to insert into your message.


Albums - This tab shows the same data and thumbnails as the “Albums” tab in Google+ Photos.  Selecting an album will insert a link to the album and all the pictures it contains into the body of your message.  You may also double-click to push into the album where you can select individual pictures.


Upload - This section shows a screen where the user can drag-and-drop an image, or open the local file browser to upload a file from the computer. Attaching a local photo will not upload the photo to Google+ photos.



Web Address (URL) - This section shows a screen where the user may specify the URL of an image on the web to use.



In addition, any time you are viewing individual pictures (any screen except Albums and Image URL) the lower/right will provide a choice of inserting the image inline or as an attachment.  Notice that the default is inline.  Albums are always inserted as a link, and Image URLs always are shown inline.



Of course when you are done (or if you wish to abort) the lower/left has the Insert and Cancel buttons.




Once an image is inserted inline, you can click on the image to see a number of re-sizing options.  In addition, the four corners of the image have drag handles (the blue squares) allowing the image to be dragged to any size desired maintaining the aspect-ratio of the image.




The basic work-flow to insert one or more pictures would be as follows:
  1. Select the picture source, one of the four tabs, along the top.
  2. Select one or more pictures in the center area.
  3. Specify if they should be inline or attachments in the lower/right.
  4. Click Insert in the lower/left.
  5. If the image is inline, re-size as desired.
The Gmail help article for attachments can be found here:  Add Attachments
The Gmail help article for inserting images can be found here:  Insert images into your messages

Keep in mind that the total size of Gmail messages is 25 megabytes (MB).  If you want to send attachments that are larger than this, you can share them from Google Drive (as shown above), or use one of the many file sharing sites available (like DropBox.com).

This updated interface supports all of the image attachment and insertion options previously available in a more symmetric and comprehensive way that should support most anything you wish to do with photos in e-mail messages.  And if you previously used drag-and-drop to place inline images from your computer into messages, that still works exactly as before.

December 23, 2013

Preparing For Your First Google Helpout

Google Helpouts provide a live interactive platform allowing you to get help from a real person on a wide variety of topics.  Some sessions are free, and some are paid (either a fixed amount or based on the length of the session).  But they all give you the opportunity to speak directly with a subject-matter expert.  If this is your first time using the Helpouts platform there are a number of things you need to do first to prepare.  You don't want any last-minute technical problems getting in the way of the help you desire.

Verify your computer setup

You will need to have a computer with sufficient speed and memory to support a video chat session.  You will also need a broadband internet connection.  And since it will be a video chat, the computer will need to have both working speakers and a microphone.  Most people find a headset mic works best.  The exact setup isn't important just as long as you can hear, and be heard clearly.

For more help on the minimum requirements for a helpout, see the help center article:  https://support.google.com/helpouts/answer/3164686?hl=en&ref_topic=14126

Install the Helpout Plugin

Next you will need to install the Google Hangouts plugin which is the platform used by Google Helpouts.  Start by going to https://www.google.com/tools/dlpage/hangoutplugin?authuser=0 and click the blue download button.


This will down an executable installer (probably called GoogleVoiceAndVideoSetup.exe) which you need to run.  It only takes a few moments.

For more help with the requirements to participate in a helpout, see the help center article:  https://support.google.com/helpouts/answer/3497783?hl=en&ref_topic=14126

Have a practice Helpout

With the above steps completed, the next thing you will want to do is have a free practice helpout with a member of the Google Helpouts team.  This will allow you to:

  • Test your setup to make sure everything works OK.
  • Experience how you schedule and start a Helpout session.
  • Play with any of the available tools.
  • Ask any questions you have about Helpouts to a Google employee.
  • Completing a practice session will make your first real Helpout session go much smoother.

For more general help with Google helpouts, see the help center article:  https://support.google.com/helpouts/#topic=14126

Setup Google Wallet

If you are going to use a paid Helpout provider, you will need to have Google Wallet setup in the Google account you will use for the session.  Again, this should be done before the session so no time is wasted with payment issues when you are trying to get started.

Start by going to the Google Wallet page and create an account.   https://wallet.google.com/


For more help with Google Wallet, see the help center article:  https://support.google.com/wallet/?hl=en#topic=3209987

Other considerations

Some Helpout topics will require the host to be able to see documents or setting on your computer.  This is especially true of topics related to computer problems or help with a computer application you use.  This will require you to use the screen-sharing tool in Helpouts.  For the best results you will want to close any unneeded windows or programs before starting the Helpout session.  You may also want to further prepare by opening anything you know you will be sharing during the Helpout so it's available without delay when you need it.

There are a variety of other tools available during a Helpout which you or the host may want to use.



Your first Helpout

So after doing all of the above to get ready, now what?  If you haven't already done so, go to the Google Helpouts site and search or browser for a Helpout you would like to attend. Once you've found a Helpout, there will be several options available:

The host is available now.  Click the button to start the session.



The host is available now, but there's a line.  Click the button to join the queue until your turn.


Click the button to view the calendar of available times to schedule a session.


Click the button to send a message to the host and suggest some potential times to schedule a session.



And don't forget to have fun.

Hopefully this article has provided you with the information you need to prepare for and have a successful Helpout session.  Once you've completed one, feel free to browse the topics available and have more sessions.

December 2, 2013

User-Profile Privacy and Avoiding Google Plus

People are expressing legitimate concerns over Google's push for users to have a user-profile and a Google+ account.  Some of these concerns revolve around issues of privacy because they simply don't want their personal information made public.  Others don't want another social-media portal so they don't want to use Google+ at all.


It's true that there are some cases where a user-profile is now required, for example to make comments on YouTube videos.  Fortunately it's possible to create a user-profile that fulfills the requirements but supplies virtually no actual information.  And using Google+ is totally optional.  Having a user-profile does not force one to use Google+ any more than having a driver's license forces one to drive.

The purpose of this article is to help you create the most restricted user-profile possible as well as eliminate almost all of the impact of Google+ in your account.  This will provide access to any products and services that require a user-profile as well as stop any reminders or nagging to create one.  This may not satisfy everyone, but for most users concerned about their privacy it will provide a good balance between privacy and product access.

Creating a minimal user-profile

While some may not remember that far back, Gmail only required three pieces of personal information when initially creating the account:  your name, your gender, and your birth date.  Your name is used along with your e-mail address on every sent message unless you modify that behavior in Settings->Accounts->Send Mail As.

Of course you are expected to use your real name, but you are not required to use your full name on the account.  The Google+ Profile Names Policy (https://support.google.com/plus/answer/1228271) states in the section "Can I just use my initials or my first name?" that:

You must provide a two-part name. It’s acceptable for one of these to be an initial, but not both. For example, “Jane Smith,” “Jane S.,” and “J. Smith” are allowed, but “J. S.” isn’t.

This is important since your name is the one piece of information that is publicly available.  If you do not want your full name visible you will want to take advantage of the above option.  And since first names are usually more generic than last names, people typically select their first name and last initial.

There are a couple ways you may be prompted to create a user-profile.  You might see the nag screen that Google will occasionally display.


Or you may be forced to create one if you use a product like YouTube that requires a user-profile to make comments.


You can also do it anytime you want by clicking on your name/address in the upper/right of your Gmail page and clicking the blue "Join Google+" button.

In each case you are required to provide the same three pieces of information you did when you initially created the account. For reasons known only to Google, the name and birth date fields are pre-populated, but you get to select your gender again including the marvelous option of "other".  Those desiring to select "I don't know" should use "other".

Once you have added Google+ you will notice that the upper/right part of each page in your Google account has change from just your name/address to a number of different icons.


Clicking on the +Name (typically your first name) will take you to Google+.  If you hover your mouse over the drop-down menu indicator next to "Home" you will get a drop-down of views to go to.  Select "Profile".  You can also click on your picture/avatar in the upper/right and select "View profile" from the drop-down panel.


From the profile page, click on the "About" tab and you will be viewing your initial user-profile.


At this point everything is undefined except your name, and two items, Gender and Birthday, in "Basic information".  Click on the "Edit" link and use the drop-down menus to set your Gender and Birthday to "Only you" and click the "Save" button.


You can set all the fields to "Only you" if you wish.  In fact, you can edit every sub-category and do that for every item of information.  But it doesn't matter since all the information is blank so there's nothing to show.

You do have to visit the "People" section and click the "Edit" link.  Uncheck the "Show people in..." and "Show people who have added you to circles" options.  Then click "Save".  If you never created any circles, and no one adds you, it doesn't matter.  But it's still best to turn them off.


You are now finished editing your user-profile. To view what everyone else can see, go to the upper right and change the selection from "View profile as: Yourself" to "Public".

Initially your public profile would look as follows, with only your name and gender visible.  Of course this isn't really that bad as there's so little personal information visible.


After the above changes, it will look like the following.  When you lock down Google+ (in the next section) you will also end up removing the Photos, Videos, +1's (not seen here), and Reviews tabs.


Note that if you have a YouTube channel, the public profile will also show a link to that.


So at this point your public user-profile has been reduced to a partial name (first name, last initial) and possibly a link to your YouTube channel.

And before moving on there is one other option that should be mentioned, and that is the use of a Google+ Page which is often used by businesses and companies who want a web-presence not associated with a specific person.  In some cases this could be another way to protect one's privacy.  https://support.google.com/plus/answer/1710600?hl=en

Reducing the impact of Google+

The next step, assuming you don't want to use it, is to do everything possible to make Google+ go away.  Obviously, you will never make any posts to Google+.  You will not create any circles nor add anyone to a circle.  But you also want to prevent Google+ sending you any e-mail, ever.

Once again, use the drop-down menu on your Google+ page and select "Settings" (the last item in the list).  This will take you to the Google+ page of your Google account settings.


You will start at the top and basically turn everything you can off.  We'll skip a few sections that don't matter or are already off.

  • Who can interact with you and your posts - send everything to "Only you".
  • Who can Hangout with you - click the Customize button and make sure everything is set to "Send request" (which means people can request a hangout which you can ignore).  Also uncheck the "Get notified about Hangout requests".
  • Shared Endorsements - click the Edit link, uncheck the box at the bottom, and Save.
  • Manage subscriptions - uncheck everything.
  • Receive notification - uncheck e-mail notifications for everything.
  • Photos - uncheck everything.
  • Profile - uncheck everything.  Note that unchecking the profile tabs will remove those from your public user-profile which locks it down a bit better.  The only ones left will be:  About and Posts (which will be empty if you never post).  Also particularly note the last entry "Help others discover my profile in search results" as unchecking this one prevents search engines from indexing your profile.
  • Hashtags - uncheck.
  • Your circles - click the Customize button, uncheck everything, and Save.

After completing all this, Google+ has been rendered pretty harmless.  Your user-profile will be available to people you send e-mail to.  But if they view it the only thing they will see is your name (which they would already have from your e-mail address).  If they add you to one of their circles, it doesn't matter.  You'll never see any of their posts if you don't read Google+.  And if you never post, there's nothing for anyone else to see.


You may get notification of events (like being added to someone's circle) in the bell icon in the upper/right of your account, but you can ignore those or click on the bell and clear any pending notifications.

Here is an article that talks about some other opt-out settings you may wish to consider:  5 Google Opt-Out Settings To Check.

Again, this solution isn't perfect for everyone.  You do still have a user-profile and a Google+ account.  But it does a pretty good job of protecting your privacy and reducing the impact of Google+ on your day-to-day use of Gmail.

October 30, 2013

The New Google Sign In Page

The new sign in page for Google products has created some confusion with users.  The phrase "One account. All of Google." suggests that something has changed with the way Google products are organized or used.  The reality is that nothing has changed with how Google accounts work.  There has always been a single Google account which acts as a container to hold all the other Google products and services like:  Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Drive, etc.

See this document for more information about how Google accounts works:  http://gmail-miscellany.blogspot.com/2012/01/google-accounts-how-they-work.html

The thing that has changed is the format of the sign in page.  With the new sign in page Google is trying to make it more clear that when you sign in, you are not signing into one specific product.  You are instead signing into a Google account which gives you access to all the products and services you may use.

This is a little extra confusing for Gmail users because you are using your Gmail account to sign in.  If feels like you are signing into Gmail.  But again, you are actually signing into your Google account which gives you direct access to your Gmail account.  You can not have a Gmail account without also having a Google account that contains it.

So "One account. All of Google." could be worded as:  "One Google account sign in.  All of the Google products and services."

The other change is that the page now keeps a list of accounts signed into on that computer so that it's faster/easier to sign into that account on your next visit.  But this does have some down-sides when using a public or shared computer.

The rest of this article will walk through each of the pages one might see with the new Google sign in system, and what you would do on each page.




This page, or one like it, is what you may see the first time you try to sign into some Google product on a computer.  This is basically an advertisement although it doesn't currently show up for all products (some go directly to the next sign in page below).

The key point to remember here is that you are not being forced to create a new account if you already have one.  While it's sort of "hidden in plain sight", there is a blue Sign in link clearly displayed in the upper/right (highlighted on this picture with the red arrow and circle).  Click that link to move to the next page and sign in.

Normally you will never see this page again.  But if the cache and cookies are manually or automatically cleared from the browser, this page may be displayed again the next time one signs in.  This is normal, and like so many other bits of information lost by clearing cookies, something you just have to put up with until this page is no longer being used.




This is the actual page where you sign into your account.  It's pretty straight forward with all the fields labeled.  Enter your information and click the blue Sign in button.

The "Stay signed in" check-box is still available.  But one interesting side-effect is that if it's un-checked, the sign in page will not save the account name in the list of previously used accounts.  This can be handy when using a public or shared computer.

Of note is that the previous "Can't access your account?" link has been replaced with "Need help?"  Click that to start the account recovery process.  For more information on account recovery see:  http://gmailaccountrecovery.blogspot.com/

Also note the line at the bottom "One Google Account for everything Google" which is perhaps a clearer statement of the "One account. All of Google." line at the top.




This is the page displayed when you sign out of your account.  And even though it is displaying your name and account (as the previous system would do), you really are signed out.  This makes it easy to sign in the next time as all you have to do is provide the password.

Note the little pop-up information dialog.  This attempts to clarify that you really are signed out of your account.
  • You're now signed out
  • We've remembered your account on this device to make your future sign-ins easier. Just enter your password to sign back in.
  • Learn more

If you or anyone needs to access a different Google account, simply click the blue Manage accounts on this device link at the bottom (circled here in red).  You will be taken to a page like the one below which will list all the accounts used previously on this device.  Click the "Add account" button to sign into an account not previously used.

If you don't want this information to be retained on the computer, clearing the browser cookies should erase the saved account name.




If two or more accounts have been used on this computer, the above page is displayed containing a list of all the accounts it remembers.  Clicking on one of the listed accounts will take you to the previous page where you can enter your password and sign in.

This is similar to what most browsers already do if they are configured to remember form data to auto-fill in the future.  With the old sign in screen, as you'd start to enter an account name a drop-down list would appear of matching names provided by the browser.  Now the sign in screen provides that same list without the need to start typing an account name.

As noted above, if the "Stay signed in" box is not enabled when you signed in, the account name will not be retained on this list.

The "Add account" button is the equivalent of "Sign in with a different account" link.  It will let you access a different account which will be added to this list of accounts for the next time.  It does not link or merge accounts or do anything beyond simply letting you access an account not on the list.  It is, as such, letting you add another account to the list of remembered accounts.




If the "Remove" button from the previous page is clicked this is the page that will be displayed.  By clicking the "X" on any entry you can remove it from the saved list.  Of course if an account is used again later it will be re-added to the list.




And as a reminder, if you have a Google+ account, you can no longer click on your name to sign out.  The little arrow indicating the drop-down panel is also gone.  To sign out, you must click on your picture/avatar to open the panel, and then you can click on the Sign out button.

If you do not have Google+, you will still see your name or e-mail address which you can click on to access the panel.


So hopefully this has removed some of the mystery and confusion over what Google is doing with this new sign in system.  There are some additions, but the functionality is pretty much the same as it has always been.  Just remember that you are signing into your Google account, not a specific product.  And once you have signed into your Google account you have access to all the other products and services you use in that account.

October 26, 2013

My Gmail Is Acting Strange

Sooner or later it happens to most all Gmail users.  Some function stops working, or perhaps a part of the user-interface is missing or doesn't look correct.  There are various of problems or "glitches" that can show up in your account.  The good news is that most of the time there is a simple, straight-forward way to fix them.

If you have spent much time in the Gmail Help Forum you've probably seen long lists posted by people of things to try.  Unfortunately some users will skip these list:  "My problem is much too complex to be fixed by clearing the browser cookies."  Or they will skip some steps thinking:  "There no way any of the Gmail labs could cause this."  But much too often that is incorrect and they fail to fix their problem by skipping something simple they could have tried.

So it's important to follow some check-list like the one below anytime you have a problem in your Gmail account.  With luck, one of the items will fix the issue.  If not, you may be able to narrow the problem down to something much more specific making it easier to identify and fix.  And if they don't help you will have at least ruled out the most common causes of problems.

Of course there are some things these obviously won't help with.  Clearing browser cookies won't help you remember a forgotten password.  If messages you sent to another account bounce with an error, trying it on another computer probably won't help.  And disabling browser extensions is unlikely to help you recover an accidentally deleted message from Trash.  On the other hand, none of these will make things worse so it never hurts to try them if you're unsure of the cause of some problem.

So before you post to the help forum, ask someone for help, or pay for third-party support, make sure you've tried all these simple fixes first.  You should also write down the results of each one and be prepared to share which items (if any) helped with the problem and which didn't.

The following list is basically in priority order.  That is the first items have the best chance of fixing or isolating the problem.  Some items, like clearing the browser cache/cookies, may fix the problem.  Other items, like trying another supported browser, are diagnostic giving you more information about the nature of the problem.  Be careful about skipping any as some side-effects can be subtle and totally unexpected, like a lab causing the Help choice to be missing from the gear-icon menu (Help link gone missing in Gmail).


Clearing the browser's cache and cookies, then exit and re-starting the browser.

This simple item tends to fix more strange problems in browsers than anything else.  Many people make this a normal part of their computer usage doing it on a regular basis.  And it's always the first thing to try if there's something unusual going on with Gmail.

This article provides instructions for several major browsers:  http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=32050


Updated your browser to the latest version.

There are many problems that can be caused by running an older, no longer supported version of your browser.  It is also very important to be using a supported browser with Gmail.  This not only means which browser you are using (Firefox, Chrome, IE, etc) but that you have the latest version.  If your browser is unsupported or out-of-date, fix that next.

Supported Browsers:  http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6557


Try using another supported browser and another computer.

Many problems are caused by using an old version of a browser that is no longer supported, and often browser will simply act differently.  Testing your issue on several browsers will help you determine if it's browser dependent (only fails on one browser).

Trying a different computer can help you rule out some computer-specific causes.  And you should always test a computer on a different network (like at work if you normally access Gmail at home) to rule out any network/firewall/ISP issues.

This step is diagnostic.  Discovering that your problem only happens in one browser doesn't fix it, it just suggests that it's a browser issue instead of something else.


Disable Internet Explorer's compatibility mode.

If you use Internet Explorer, you need to disable the compatibility mode which defaults to enabled:  http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=181472.  The fix will not work unless you also un-check the 3 options at the bottom: "Include Updated Website lists from Microsoft," "Display intranet sites in Compatibility view" and "Display all websites in Compatibility view."  After making the changes restart the browser.

This is clearly a browser-specific fix and is strongly indicated if the previous test showed the problem only present in IE.


Try both the Standard version (https://mail.google.com/) and Basic-html version (http://mail.google.com/mail?ui=html) of Gmail.

This is another diagnostic test which can help rule out account problems.  If you are logged into the Standard version of Gmail you can test the Basic version by simply opening its URL in another browser tab.  This makes it easy to do a side-by-side comparison of the problem in each version.


Disable all browser extensions and add-ons.

Browser extensions can cause all sorts of unexpected side-effects.  This is especially true of any extensions specifically designed to interact with Gmail.  One should always try disabling everything that's been added to the browser to see if the problem goes away.  If it does, a little additional testing can usually determine which specific extension/add-on caused the problem.

Related to this test would be testing in an incognito window (Chrome) or running Safe Mode (Firefox).


Disable/delete any browser toolbars (like Ask, Bing, Yahoo, etc).

While similar to the above test involving extensions/add-ons, this one specifically addresses disabling or deleting any toolbar programs you have installed for your browser (they may not show up as an extension/add-on).  Again, you simply want to rule these programs out as a cause.

You can typically uninstall these by going to the Control Panel \ Programs and Features and looking through the list for any toolbars you have seen displayed in your browser.


Disable any labs features you are using.

There are many useful functions available in Settings->Labs.  But as the disclaimer at the top of that page says:  "They may change, break or disappear at any time."  It is important to rule them out as a cause of a problem by disabling them all and re-testing.  You can disable all of them at once by using:  https://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0


Temporarily disable your anti-virus scanner.

Some problems in Gmail, especially related to missing parts of the user interface, can be caused by an anti-virus program blocking access.  But it’s critical that you also disable any internet or e-mail related extensions/add-ons it has as the blocking may be specific to internet activity or e-mail.

Don't forget to re-enable it after the test.


Disable any other monitoring or internet protection programs (like Net-Nanny).

There are other types of malware, ad-blocking, and child protection suites one may have installed.  Like the anti-virus test above, these should be temporarily disabled to see if the Gmail problem is being caused by their activity.


Uninstall and re-install your browser.

This is related to the above test making sure your browser is up-to-date.  But sometimes if a problem seems to only happen in one browser, it's worth re-installing it on your computer to clear any problems with the installation that may have developed.  If you don't tell the uninstaller to clear settings, all your personal information should still be present after the browser is re-installed.

Supported Browsers (contains links to download various browsers):  http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6557


Disable Settings->Offline->Offline Mail if you use it.

It's pretty rare for Gmail Offline to cause a problem, but if nothing else is helping it's worth testing.  See:  Settings->Offline


Verify that your computer's system date, time and time-zone are set correctly.

There are some problems with web-site security certificates as well as e-mail time-stamps that are easily fixed by making sure the time settings are correct on your computer.  Do not overlook the timezone setting.  You can typically access this by clicking on the time displayed on the task bar, and selecting "Change date and time settings...".


Delete and re-installing Flash and Java on your computer.

This probably isn't one you'd do unless there was some indication that there was a specific problem with one of these packages.  But again, it never hurts to make sure all the software on your computer is up-to-date and cleanly installed.

Oracle Java:  http://www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp
Adobe Flash:  http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

May 27, 2013

Managing Sent Mail

As many already know, Gmail doesn't use folders to organize messages as many traditional e-mail clients do.  Instead it uses labels.  All your messages are stored in All Mail.  Everything else (Inbox, Starred, Drafts, user-labels, etc) are just "views" into a sub-set of the messages in All Mail.

Labels could be though of as colored sticky or post-it notes that you might apply to physical letters so you can later easily find all the red ones, or all the yellow ones.  For more detail on this see:  http://gmail-miscellany.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-gmail-stores-your-mail.html

Sent Mail is a little different.  It could be thought of as a pre-defined filter that shows you all the messages you have sent rather than a simple label.  While it is possible to remove messages from Sent Mail using IMAP from an email client or mobile device, that is only a temporary change.  At any time Gmail may re-index your messages and cause all sent messages to once again show in Sent Mail.

So, in summary:
1.  Sent Mail is not a label.
2.  Using IMAP to move messages out of Sent Mail is not permanent.

The above behaviors can be a problem for people who like to manage their Sent Mail as if it was a normal label or folder.  They may wish to keep messages sent to other people in Sent Mail until they receive a reply or answer.  That is, the message being in Sent Mail acts an indicator of "action pending" and it's removal from Sent Mail signifies "action complete".

Fortunately, there's a way around the fact that Sent Mail doesn't behave like a normal label.  We can create a new sent label that will do exactly what we want.

The first step is to hide the system Sent Mail label.  Pretend it doesn't exist and never use it again.
Settings -> Labels and set Sent Mail to Hide.
Next we create a new label to hold all the e-mail that has been sent.
Settings -> Labels click Create New Label and name it "MySent' (or whatever you want).
Settings -> Labels and set "MySent" to Show
Settings -> Labels and un-check the "Show in IMAP" for "MySent"
Now we need to make sure all messages we send are labeled with this new label.
Settings -> Filters click Create New Filter
Enter "me" in the "From" field
On page 2, check "Apply the label" and select "MySent"
Click Create Filter
The new filter should look like this in Settings->Filters
Matches: from:me
Do this: Apply label "MySent"
Note that "from:me" works correctly even if you have multiple from addresses configured in your account.

We now have our own label which will hold all the messages sent, and can be managed in any way we want.

Of course the normal rules about labels still apply.  Since there is only one copy of each message (potentially with multiple labels applied), if you delete the message from any label it will be removed from all of them and placed in Trash.  This means you'll probably want to remove the "MySent" label from messages rather than deleting them.