There's Something Wrong With Gmail Images

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 31 2014 5:24 PM

There's Something Wrong With Gmail Images

gmail
Some images in an email from Yelp load, but others have broken links.

Screencap by Doug Harris of Gmail.

Have you noticed that some images in your Gmail messages aren't loading? Because Slate's chief software architect, Doug Harris, has. And when he pointed it out to me, I started seeing it, too.

Lily Hay Newman Lily Hay Newman

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

In mid-December, the Gmail team announced that it was going to be automatically displaying all of the images in emails instead of first asking users whether they wanted the images to appear. The old system had been created to give users a choice—if something malicious lurked in an attachment, it wouldn't compromise the computer's security as soon as the email was opened.

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But Google decided to instead put all images through an intermediate server and run malware checks on everything before displaying a proxy version of the original image on-screen. "You’ll soon see all images displayed in your messages automatically across desktop, iOS and Android," Gmail product manager John Rae-Grant wrote in a blog post announcing the change. "Gmail will now serve all images through Google’s own secure proxy servers."

Some people worried that this gave Google even more access to their data, and Google was quick to release a guide for turning the feature on and off. But it seems like there's another problem, too. Every broken image I find in my email links to a URL that includes "googleusercontent.com/proxy/," like this one below.

gmail3
At least this is reminding me to pay my electric bill.

Screencap by Lily Hay Newman of Gmail.

The problem, which seems to have started or at least become noticeable around Tuesday, has been cropping up on sites like Emailblog.eu and EDMdesigner, as well as on Twitter, where people are getting increasingly, ahem, vocal.

I reached out to Google, but no one has gotten back to me yet. Even though it's not as bad as Gmail being down, we all know how these things go. The tenor of the complaining is going to get increasingly vitriolic until the Gmail team finds a fix.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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