Two days ago I went to log into Gmail and found that the login screen I had been using for, what — an entire decade? — was suddenly behaving differently. Now, as a longtime web user I’ve been taught that any time something seems phishy I should make sure that what I’m seeing is actually what it purports to be. That is in fact the lesson all large web companies preach — be vigilant!
The problem, of course, is that the level of criminal sophistication perpetrating such deceptions keeps growing, to the point that almost anything seems possible. How do I know that someone hasn’t figured out a way to show me the appropriate URL, then redirect my traffic or keystrokes to a hostile server? I mean, I’m a reasonably sophisticated web user, but that only means I’m that much more aware of what I don’t know.
As it turns out, the change to my Gmail login ritual was not only initiated by Google, it was rolled out on the sly without, ironically, so much as an email that a change was coming. Meaning I had to get on the internet to find out that other users around the country and around the world were being confronted by that same autocratic change before I knew it was safe to log into my Gmail account.
Somewhere in the high-tech bowels of Google a group of very highly paid people got together and decided that they would roll out a new login scheme which requires twice as many clicks as the old scheme, that they would do so without giving notice to anyone who used that scheme, and that they would give no reason for doing so. That is exactly how the world ended up with Windows 8, and a whole host of other Microsoft initiatives to win market share and own technology spaces in complete disregard for its customers.
I suspect that the Gmail change has something to do with Google’s recognition that the world is going mobile, but the real story here is the contempt with which Google views its users. That is in fact the signature moment in any tech company’s life cycle — the one where current users are considered to be, at best, nothing more that a population to be exploited, and at worst, a hindrance to corporate goals that have completely diverged from the products and services being offered and utilized.
In terms of righteous indignation this barely qualifies as a 2, so I’m not suggesting anyone leave Gmail, but simply that you take a step back and get your mind around the contempt that any company would have to have in order to suddenly change the portal to your email account. Because those are the same people who have said they are not reading your hosted emails, or personally identifying your web traffic, or doing anything else you wouldn’t want them to do because they promised they wouldn’t be evil.
Update: It occurred to me last night that the new Gmail requirement that users click on two separate screens in order to log in, instead of only one as before, may have been initiated as a means of encouraging people to stay logged in all the time. While presenting as an initial annoyance, once users gave in and complied it would strengthen Google’s brand association with email products and the user’s reliance on same, preventing people from migrating to other platforms for chat and video, etc. The downside, obviously, is that it would actually make Gmail accounts significantly less secure if an always-logged-in device fell into the wrong hands.
— Mark Barrett