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Barriers to Gmail For Those Without Mobile Phones

by Catherine Bloomquist -- catebloomquist@gmail.com on December 20, 2013

We are all aware of the vital role libraries play in bridging the digital divide. For people who do not otherwise have access to computers or the Internet, libraries are a place where they can search and apply for jobs, stay connected with friends, and access government services. Email’s central role in all of these activities means that libraries frequently assist new online users in setting up email accounts. Many libraries prefer Gmail for this task because of Gmail’s high spam-filtering capabilities, an important consideration for new online users who may not be familiar with Internet security and fraud threats. However, libraries face a significant challenge in helping users take this essential first step to online participation because of Gmail’s email account verification process.

Since libraries set up so many email accounts, Gmail’s system interprets the multiple account requests coming from these servers as potential spam accounts. Therefore, Gmail will not allow the more typical “Captcha” verification, and instead users must verify the account (and their human status) via a code that is sent by text message to a mobile phone. This presents a significant barrier for anyone who does not have a mobile phone. Gmail does offer an alternative landline verification option, but this is not a solution for those who do not have computers at home, or the necessary skills to create an email account on their own. While staff can usually work around these situations by supplying their own mobile phone numbers, this is only a short-term fix since the Gmail system will accept a single phone number a limited number of times. More importantly, it does not address the underlying issue of inequitable access to the online arena.

This is a widespread problem, frequently mentioned in the Google help forums and in other online help forums, but the consensus seems to be that “this is just the way it is.” Google is backed by billions of dollars and the most brilliant minds in the world – surely, it can do better than this. Moreover, if Google truly wants to stand behind its “Don’t be evil” slogan, it must do better than this. Please ask Google to create a reliable account creation alternative for libraries and other computer literacy organizations by signing this petition.

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