Gmail virus scanning draws some user complaints

Google's introduction of a virus-scanning feature for Gmail is drawing various complaints from users.

The virus-scanning feature Google added to its Gmail Web mail service this week has generated concern, bewilderment and disappointment among some users.

The three main complaints being aired in Gmail discussion groups are: The virus-scanning feature can't be turned off.

Gmail's long-standing virus protection -- blocking all executable file attachments -- will remain in place. Finally, Google isn't saying which vendor is providing the antivirus technology.

A Google spokeswoman said that, while Google gives thoughtful consideration to user feedback, for now it has no plans to make the antivirus feature optional, nor does it plan to stop blocking executables. She also declined to identify the source of the antivirus technology Google is using.

Disabling the virus scanning is convenient for users who may occasionally need to mail an infected file for reporting purposes to an antivirus vendor and for users who may regularly handle infected messages if they are, say, IT professionals involved in antivirus work.

William Boyle, principal software engineer at Brooks Automation in Massachusetts, doesn't foresee being very inconvenienced, but he thinks Google should give users the option to turn off the feature.

"I just do not like to lose control over what I can send and/or receive," Boyle wrote in an e-mail interview with IDG News Service. "This may be a problem if I am trying to report a virus to someone."

"I am a systems software engineer and must be able to send and receive any sort of message," added Boyle, who has been using Gmail for about six months, but not as his primary account for work or personal communications.

Meanwhile, there are users feeling disappointed that Google is keeping in place its policy of blocking all executable file attachments in Gmail. Prior to the new virus-scanning feature, this had been Gmail's virus protection method.

One of these users is Thomas Quinlen, an attorney with McNabb, Bragorgos & Burgess in Tennessee. "With virus scanning in place, the blocking is redundant," he wrote in an e-mail interview.

Quinlen, who uses Gmail as his primary e-mail account for personal communications, has felt inconvenienced by this feature whenever he has wanted to e-mail himself an application from one of his computers in order to install it in one or both of his other computers.

He has remote access to his work desktop PC from his laptop and from his home PC, he explained. "But if I am going to be disconnected from the Internet -- on an airplane, for instance -- I need the [work] application on the other [nonwork] computer," he wrote. "Given the size of attachments Gmail allows, it seems like executables should be allowed, particularly if I am e-mailing it to myself, which is really just file storage rather than sending it out over the Internet."

Although some technically savvy users are chiming in discussion groups with ways to disguise executables and trick Gmail into allowing them, Quinlen doesn't feel he has the necessary know-how to accomplish this. "I doubt I have the computer skills to even attempt to defeat [this feature]," he wrote.

Finally, a number of Gmail users are loudly wondering in discussion group threads which antivirus technology Google is licensing, as they weigh what they perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses of different vendors. The consensus among these users is that they shouldn't be in the dark regarding which antivirus company is ultimately protecting their computers.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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