One Obstacle to Using Gmail

The school's email is working better today, but I'm wary. Very wary.

Gmail seems like one possible solution to my email woes. I was sent an offer to join a few weeks ago, but dithered so long over choosing a screen name that the offer lapsed. Now I'm re-motivated, and Constantin Basturea kindly sent me a URL to activate an account. But now there's a new problem: I just read the license terms.

If you read the program policies to which assent is required (along with the privacy policy and terms of use), you find in there a representation that I do not think I can make in good conscience. I'm asked to agree that I will not,

Reformat or frame any portion of the web pages that are part of the Gmail Service

The trouble is, like everyone else I would plan to view my gmail through a browser. Sometimes it's in a small window. Sometimes it shows text only and no graphics, sometimes all sorts of odd things happent to my desktop, some of them even intentional. Sometimes I have small text, sometimes bigger. And let's not even talk about the ad blocker…

If this were a prohibition on publishing Gmail content to others in a transformed form, that might be less of a problem, although you have to wonder what this means if I forward the text of an email—do I have to include the ads? What if I only quote a paragraph in a paper I'm writing? But the text quoted above reads as a limit on how I display it to myself, and one which it may be impossible for me to comply with since all browsers “reformat” web pages according to my and the programmer's instructions.

I would communicate this concern directly to Gmail, indeed in further correspondence no-good-deed-goes-unpunished Constantin Basturea even gave me a URL to use to submit the query…but it requires you have a gmail account to write to them.

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9 Responses to One Obstacle to Using Gmail

  1. Madman says:

    I would read that line as prohibiting publishing. Hence “reformat”. Likewise, “frame” seems to suggest putting the contents of Gmail into an Iframe or other type of HTML frame… on some other site, as though it were a service you could “franchise”.

    I think you’re ok on the score of using Gmail for your own uses.

  2. figment says:

    From Gmail’s document on Gmail and Privacy: (
    “We encourage users and interested groups around the world to share their thoughts on our policies and procedures by writing to us at”

  3. paperwight says:

    This is really to prevent the practice of framing other websites, as well as the deep-linking problem from Ticketmaster v. It’s poorly written. no doubt, but I think it might be hard to write the prohibition more restrictively and get the desired result.

  4. Pat says:

    Also, it is still in beta and the restricted feedback is to get feedback from the people that are in fact using the service. Would you want to trust all of your e-mail to a service that is in beta anyway? There is nothing that explicitly says that once the beta is over they will clear everything and start fresh. Of course, the bad news that would generate is enough to prevent that from happening…but I’m just sayin’…it’s beta, it’s in flux, stuff changes…

    It’s no an apology for poorly worded legal mumbo jumbo though. Just know that the GMail that opens to the public will not be the GMail that you use today.

  5. Randy Paul says:


    Yahoo just increased its mailbox size to 100 MB for free service.

  6. Al says:

    I find it ironic and sad that Google is the target of so much suspicion nowadays. I work in the IT industry and follow industry events closely, and I can tell you without hesitation that Google is by far the most ethical of the large companies in the industry. They have consistently acted better and have shown more concern for their users than anyone else. Their web pages are friendly, straightforward and uncluttered. They support common web standards like Unicode. They pioneered text ads, which are a triumph of the user over the advertiser. They refuse to censor information — even when they are legally obliged to block URLs from searches, they cleverly link to the legal document they received that contains the URLs, letting us easily access them! They are extremely straightforward with their privacy policies — in fact, their frankness and honesty is what led them into the Gmail furore in the first place. Other email companies falsely say that there are no privacy concerns in their email systems, but Google was frank enough to say what they are. Google has always done the Right Thing for the little guy.

    You’ve misunderstood their policy. It’s clear that they only intend to block other sites from linking to them while putting them in a frame with ads. They certainly don’t mean to do anything as silly as stopping you from resizing your browser or copying your mail without ads. In fact, they could not legally do so even if they wanted to; your email is copyrighted to you or whoever sent it, not Google. They are only a transmission medium, you are not signing a contract that gives them any rights.

  7. Michael says:

    Hey! I *like* Google. Lots. Really. My favorite web site. I just think the contract could be re-worded a bit…

    Whether or not the contract gives them “rights”, it certainly says they can terminate me if I violate any of the promises they require. And one of those promises is not to “reformat” web pages. Which is silly. Yes, it’s not what they mean, or the service would be unusable. And I’m sure they will change it.

  8. Ti m Bishop says:

    I took the liberty of filing a bug with Google, pointing them towards your message. If they reply to me, I will pass on their reply.

  9. In 2004/06/one_obstacle_to_using_gmail.html
    Michael Froomkin wrote,

    “…. I’m asked to agree that I will not,”

    “Reformat or frame any portion of the web pages that are part
    of the Gmail Service”

    Not only is this technically unfeasible because browser displays
    sound and look differently depending on formatting, but the
    policy goes against the long standing convention for HTML, which
    is the opposite from electronic mail.

    HTML is `WYSOHIFAYD’, “What You See Or Hear Is Formatted As You
    Decide” to hear or see. HTML is designed so the reader or
    listener can decide what format to see or hear. The looks or
    sounds vary; but the content remains.

    On the other hand, for electronic mail, the standard,
    international convention is that it is `WYSIWYCS’, “What You See
    Is What Your Correspondent Sent”. Mail programs are not supposed
    to change anything except size. (The face will be dull and
    fixed-width.) The idea is that the message accurately reflects
    the intentions of the sender.

    As a practical matter, this means that electronic mail is
    supposed to be similar to the typewritten letters of the past
    rather than to hand written letters, which are more expressive.
    You can argue that this characteristic makes for a poor
    convention. Who wants to duplicate typewriter output?

    Its advantage, as far as I can see, is that any one, even someone
    frugal or remote or suffering a bad connection, can send and
    receive email. It does not waste their or their sponsors’
    resources and messages can be displayed equally well by every
    email program. It means that people in first world countries do
    not waste resources of third world countries. The convention
    means that electronic mail is universal.

    Of course, the permanently blind, or the growing number of the
    situationally blind, such as those who listen to their email
    while driving, do not see their electronic mail. So its
    reproduction is less exact; but people argue that the change from
    sight to sound is both necessary and acceptable.

    Robert J. Chassell

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