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[liberationtech] question about browser/Gmail subject line / browser history exposure

Adam Fisk afisk at
Sat Jul 7 06:39:53 PDT 2012

I just wanted to chime in I think this a legit concern Katrin and should
not be a major issue technically (modifying what's displayed in the title
tag of an HTML page is within Google's capabilities). I agrees that's
private info that should not leak when you log out of gmail, and the change
to the title tag itself does not impact Gmail's ability to link to each
email as a separate page.

How to make that change while still making the feature as usable is another
question - not sure what the title tag should contain instead. Ideally it
would just disappear or change somehow on logout, but you can't control the
history like that from JavaScript.


On Friday, July 6, 2012, David Sullivan wrote:

> Hi LibTechers,
> This is David Sullivan at the Global Network Initiative. I just wanted to
> let you know that we're looking into this issue and will get back to this
> list shortly, both with clarification on how this type of issue fits into
> the company commitments as part of GNI, as well as thoughts on next steps
> on this specific issue with these companies. Thanks Katrin and Robert for
> flagging it.
> Best,
> David
> --
> David Sullivan
> Policy and Communications Director
> Global Network Initiative
> Office: +1 202 407 8831
> Cell: +1 646 595 5373
> @theGNI  <>
> On Thu, Jul 5, 2012 at 1:56 AM, Katrin Verclas <katrin at>wrote:
> Thanks for this, Sam.
> While I understand your reasoning (such as on putting the onus on the
> user_ our use case is a person who is not necessarily a self-described
> activist, just learned how to use a computer, and definitely has not had
> any training.  That person may say something in a subject line that can be
> construed as political involvement when in fact it is not.  Or it may be
> someone who is just getting involved, say in the context of an upcoming
> election, for instance.
> This feature lowers the barrier for 'accidental' invasion of privacy
> significantly. It does not require a any knowledge of tech and no
> premeditation. (Installing and reading keylogger software does require some
> tech knowledge AND premeditation.)
> In a society with a lot of informers that may tattle on someone, this that
> is a huge problem.
> Best,
> Katrin
> On Jul 4, 2012, at 5:44 PM, Sam King wrote:
> > I remember when they first implemented this feature in the early days of
> gmail.  I remember experiencing it as a wonderful feature, which was how
> they touted it.  In Yahoo mail, I can't bookmark a URL for a particular
> email, and I can't use the forward or back buttons in my browser.  In
> gmail, they got the browser to treat each email as a separate page, so the
> browser history shows each as a separate page.  As a result, it would
> probably be a very large change in the code and a decently large decrease
> in usability if they were to revert that feature.  I believe that
> doesn't give away too much information in the subject lines,
> though.
> >
> > In any case, if someone is doing sensitive things in a public location
> on an insecure computer, there are a lot of vectors of attack (you
> mentioned keyloggers.  How about someone looking over your shoulder or
> recording you?).  If that person isn't taking the basic precaution of
> clearing their browser history (or going into privacy mode in FF or
> incognito mode in Chrome), they probably are exposing a lot more than a
> list of emails they read, and they probably aren't taking a lot of other
> necessary precautions.  Even if they used Yahoo mail, the browser history
> would still reveal their username (and the connections aren't https by
> default, so it would probably be much easier for someone to actually read
> your emails and gather your browsing data).
> >
> > In general, a good user interface is one where user expectations are
> fulfilled.  I don't think that most people I know have the expectation,
> "When I am in a public place, the things that I say and read are private"
> -- I wouldn't be surprised if someone noticed a newspaper article I was
> reading in a cafe, for instance -- and I also think that most people I know
> are starting to have the expectation, "anything that I do on a computer or
> on the internet will leave traces."  That is very dependent on the culture
> and familiarity with computers on the part of the user, though.
> >
> > Sam King
> > Director | Code the Change - we have a Code Jam for social good coming
> up!
> > Teacher | CS1U: Practical Unix - videos and exercises are available free
> online!
> > facebook, linkedin, twitter, google+, verbose letters
> >
> >
> >
> > On Wed, Jul 4, 2012 at 5:15 PM, Katrin Verclas <katrin at>
> wrote:
> > Hi, Robert, thanks for that.
> >
> > See below.
> >
> > On Jul 4, 2012, at 8:55 AM, Robert Guerra wrote:
> >
> > > Katrin,
> > >
> > > Likely what  is being displayed is the HTML page title, which google
> updates per each email that is viewed or composed.
> >
> > Yeah but that's a choice gmail/fb make for some usability/ease of
> use/whatever reason that backfires for those users dependent on internet
> cafes who are not deleting their browser history.
> >
> > Of course, as was pointed out to me, there is also the problem of
> keylogger software on many computers in many cafes in many repressive
> countries that records passwords etc.... which, of course, is an important
> related issue but not one I am getting into here :)
> >
> > >
> > > The data being displayed is - sensitive data - as such would likely
> have been included in the privacy impact analysis that all GNI companies
> need to do
> >
> > Has the privacy impact analysis been released? I am copying Susan on
> this to shed light on how and what role GNI plays in
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