Tuesday, November 20, 2007

GMail Supports IMAP (but forgets to notify the abuse team)

A couple of weeks back, Google announced that GMail supports IMAP, an email protocol that allows synchronization of email across email clients and across platforms. The support of IMAP, together with the option to buy additional disk space on Google was a great incentive for me to migrate all my email to GMail, and have it available online, accessible and searchable from everywhere.

So, I paid $20 for the extra 10Gb of disk space, and I setup my email client (Thunderbird 2.0) to access GMail over IMAP. One of the first things that Thunderbird does when accessing an email account through IMAP is to synchronize the content of the remote folders with the content of the locally stored ones. Plus, I decided to upload all my old email to GMail.

Unfortunately, GMail considers such actions "Unusual Activity" and keeps locking me out of my email account for 24 hours. (Under Thunderbird, I get the cryptic message "lockdown in sector 4," whatever this means.) In fact, over the last week, it is almost impossible to do anything that resembles "heavy activity" with my GMail account, since I am continuously locked out and I get the following when I try to login through the web:

Although I understand that Google wants to protect the service from being abused, I see little reason for locking out completely its users from accessing email. Bandwidth throttling seems to be a much better choice for controlling "strange" behavior; in the worse case, Google can block access through IMAP but still allow the user to access the account over the web.

Furthermore, there should be an option for contacting customer support and getting some answer back. Right now, I only get the standard boilerplate response, indicating that I have done something wrong (bad me!) and in 24 hours I will get again access to my email. It is absolutely impossible to reach someone at Google and understand why I am getting locked out.

I suspect that the abuse-detection team (is there such a thing?) needs to update its policies and triggers, to understand better the "expected behavior" of email clients under IMAP. Blocking access without any warning to a mission-critical service (especially for paying customers), seems like a no-no decision to me.

Update (Dec 3, 2007): I just received an email from Google:


You recently contacted us about disabled access to your Gmail account due to abnormal account activity, specifically message uploading.

While our engineers are working diligently to make the upload process faster and easier, we're currently unable to provide support for message uploading.

We wanted to remind you that, at this time, uploading an excessive number of messages to your Gmail account via IMAP may lead to being temporarily locked out of your account. If this happens to you, please be aware that these lockouts are temporary and you should be able to re-access your
account shortly.

We appreciate your patience while we work to improve Gmail.


The Google Team
Well, too bad that now GMail blocks every time that I am trying to synchronize my Thunderbird client with GMail, which corresponds to a large number of downloaded messages. Furthermore, this email does not answer at all why I am blocked from accessing my GMail through the web interface, or actually why I am getting locked at all. (Have anyone heard of throttling?)