Higher Ed

Blunders in e-mail transfer

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Google accidently misdirected 22 students’ e-mails while shifting their Brown inboxes from Microsoft Exchange to Gmail last Friday — a problem that was only resolved Tuesday, according to Computing and Information Services.

Some students received access to others’ mailboxes, some had their mailboxes sent to other students and some faced both complications, according to Chris Grossi ’92, manager of software distribution and desktop support field services.

“The problem was on Google’s end. They acknowledged a bug,” Grossi said.
In a telephone interview with The Herald, a Google spokesman accepted responsibility for the mistake.

“During the migration, some people got wrong e-mail inboxes,” said Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps. “It was a small hiccup along the way and it’s an issue we’ve taken extremely seriously.”

Since announcing this past summer that Brown would begin using Gmail as its student e-mail provider, CIS has been working with Google to shift student data to the new system in batches, said Donald Tom, director of IT for support services.

On Sept. 11, CIS technicians were converting about 200 users’ data when Tom said they received notices from students about the glitch.

“We weren’t sure what the problem was, but we heard from a student that he had received someone else’s mail,” Tom said.

Grossi spoke to two students Friday who were concerned about the mix-up. “I was aware of two people right off the bat who called in and reported issues — the two I talked to expressed particular concern about what happened and why it happened.”

The following day, CIS notified Google of the problem and sent an e-mail to the roughly 200 students whose mailboxes were included in the batch being converted, asking them if they had noticed a problem. On Tuesday, Google suspended all affected accounts and fixed the bug, Tom said.

Though Tom praised Google for its prompt response, he said he was concerned the company suspended affected accounts without notifying CIS first.

“I’ve spoken very forcefully with the account (executive), my boss, senior administrators at Brown — including the president. (Google needs) to find a better way to communicate with us,” he said.

“I’m pleased that they were forthcoming in admitting that there was a bug, but what concerns me is that they took it upon themselves to suspend our students’ e-mails,” Tom added.

Sheth said the suspension was a necessary measure while the bug was being fixed to ensure that no more data were being improperly shared.

“We wanted to make sure that we can fix the issue, but at the same time while we’re fixing it that the wrong students aren’t reading the wrong messages,” Sheth said.

According to Sheth, Brown was not the only institution effected by the bug, but declined to say how many schools were affected. Tom said he got the impression that 10 schools faced the problem.

Grossi said the affected students he spoke to were “concerned but understanding.”
Evan Pelz ’11, a former Herald staff writer who mistakenly received someone else’s mail, said he was impressed by CIS’ quick response to the bug.

“Initially, I was unhappy in terms of privacy, but I think that overall, I was just impressed with how fast they handled it,” he said.

Both Tom and Grossi said this incident should not undermine students’ confidence in Google as a mail provider.

“Google does mail delivery very well,” Grossi said. “What this problem was, was a very small application that Google uses. So it’s concerning, but I don’t think it’s representative of the service as a whole.”