Google said happy birthday, but hid my emails…

By | November 15, 2013
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How would you feel if someone wished you happy birthday, then hid your things?  Well, I had it happen to me – but it was my emails that were hidden…

How Google might wish you happy birthday

I was surprised the other day.  It was my birthday and I was at work (I know, I know, but the boys were at nursery and Julie was working, so I celebrated at the weekend and the evening instead).  I started up my web browser to check something or other and lo and behold – a birthday cake appeared on the screen.

When I pointed the mouse at it, a message appeared saying “Happy Birthday Tim”.

Clever stuff.  It turns out it’s all Google’s doing.  My PC was logged into my Google account (which I use for editing documents and various other bits) so it gives me a personalised page when I start up my web browser.  And since Google know my date of birth from when I signed up, they know when my birthday is.

Surprising, but quite nice to have a huge organisation like that wishing me happy birthday!

Gmail and the hidden emails

On the other hand, Google have also been hiding some of my emails.

It happened like this.  Some of you who read this email newsletter have gmail email addresses.  That’s never been a problem – it’s an email address much like any other, you just access it from Google’s webpage.

I’ve got one myself, though it’s not my main one.

But a few months ago, they started automatically sorting your emails into 3 tabs.

There’s the “Primary” tab, which is the one that shows up when you first look at your email and in theory has your most important emails in it – emails from friends and so on.

There’s there’s “social” which is supposed to group together automated emails from Facebook, Youtube and so on.  When they email you to say “So and so has commented on your photo” or anything like that, it goes in here.

And then there’s “promotional” – which is supposed to be for, well, promotions. Adverts, basically.

I did say “in theory”, though because in practice it doesn’t always get it right.  Sometimes an important email that’s not a promotion at all can go in the promotional tab.  In fact this morning I had one from our web host, replying to a question I’d asked them, that ended up in there.

So if you have an email address ending in @gmail.com, you need to keep an eye on the other tabs.  You just click on one to see what’s in it.  And if there’s something in there that should have gone into the primary tab, you can either click on it and drag it to the primary tab, or right click on it and select “move to tab”, then select “primary”.

Oh, and the missing emails?  Well, some of my emails are promotional, I suppose, as I do tell you when I have a new book out.  But lots aren’t – they’re just full of tips and advice.  But a lot of people have found all their emails from me are going into the promotional tab, and if you don’t know to look there, you’ll never see them.  Best move one across to primary, like I explained above, to help Gmail realise you do want these emails!

Watch out: Buy one, pay twice, no three times, wait it’s four times, no…

I often keep you updated with scams to avoid being taken in by.  There’s one where someone rings pretending to be Microsoft who’ve spotted a problem with your PC, for example.  Or emails saying they’re from the taxman and if you just give them your bank details they’ll refund you some money they’ve realised you’re owed.

But this one is a new variation… and I’d better not call it a scam as I’m sure it’s legal, just.  Then again, advertising in this country is supposed to be clear, so maybe it falls foul of trading standards.

Anyway, take this as a clarification of certain other companies’ marketing (rather than as a warning about a scam – how different it is you can make up your own mind).

A reader told me about a laptop she’d bought online a while ago, using a credit card.  It arrived fine and as expected and came with various extras, as they often do.  One of the extras was 3 months free use of their help phone line.

Fair enough.  But what they didn’t make very obvious was that after the 3 months were up, they’d carry on with the helpline, but charge you for it, using the credit card you bought the PC with.

Now, buried away in their terms and conditions, it did mention this.  But it was far from obvious if you didn’t read every word.

I don’t have a problem with selling a laptop with a free trial of a service that they hope you’ll decide to keep paying for.  Or even using the same credit card details to charge you.  But I do think it should be absolutely clear up front that that’s what they’re doing, so you know to cancel if you want to.

So if you’re buying a laptop or PC online and you spot that you get a 3 month free trial of a helpline, check whether they’ll carry on charging you after the three months and make sure you remember to cancel if you don’t want it.

Busy at Helpful Book Company HQ

OK, calling it a HQ is overegging it a bit – we have a small warehouse with a little office in the corner of it on the edge of Millom. But it made me feel like I’m the mastermind behind some top secret organisation and I was watching a spy film the other day.

Anyway, we’re busy with a couple of things you should know about.

First, the business is becoming a Limited company.  This won’t really affect anything for you, but just in case you notice the details change on the website or invoices, I didn’t want you worrying.  It’s still my business, we haven’t been bought out by some global corporation and we aren’t changing what we do.

I’ve just finally got around to setting up a proper company rather than running it as a sole trader.

Secondly (and far more interestingly) we’re in the process of fully updating Next Steps on Your PC and Next Steps on the Internet.  These are two of my most popular books but they don’t currently cover Windows 8 or 8.1.  In fact we’ve stopped mentioning them to customers who have any books about Windows 8 or 8.1.

So we’re now busily updating them to cover the new versions.  While we’re at it we’re also updating some of the other parts – there are lots of new things since I first wrote them back in 2007, so it’s a good chance to bring them fully up to date.

They’re not finished yet and you can’t order them until they are, but I thought I’d give you advance warning.  I’ll let you know more shortly…

But now, I’d better get back to it!