Google has decided to fight against spam emails by making it much more difficult to sign up for a Gmail account. The idea they came up with was to require a person signing up for an email to give a cell-phone number with texting capabilities. Google would then text you a password which you can use to activate your account. This allows Google to make it much more difficult for automated systems to set up accounts and by limiting the number of accounts per cell-phone number spammers will have trouble staying in business. A rather ingenious solution, but one designed with the western world in mind.
For me - a non-cell phone user - it's annoying. The solution recommended by Google is to ask a friend if I can have the password sent to their phone. I don't want to do it, but if I need to I can get around the problem. After all, I can't complain too loudly considering Gmail is free and offers invaluable services to users.
But, what about those millions of people who do not own cell phones or do not have friends with cell phones either? There are thousands of people whose only access to the internet is on shared computers in public libraries, community centers and job-bank agencies who could benefit immensely from free email service as they search for jobs or to connect with friends and family.
What about people in third-world countries who may have access to a community computer, but may never have seen a cell phone with texting capabilities? One of the greatest things about the internet has been the ability for people from all walks of life all over the world to access information and services that had previously only been available to the rich.
What about my blind grandfather, who is an avid computer user, but obviously has no use for texting? I hate to stereotype, but I'm pretty sure if he were to ask his friends at the retirement home, he'd be hard-pressed to find anyone texting their grandchildren who he could ask for help from to get onto Gmail.
I can appreciate Google wants to cut down on spam and that people in third world countries, on government assistance or the blind probably don't bring in as much revenue as your average upper/middle class Google user, but the whole policy strikes me as anti-social and poorly thought out. Gmail was an opportunity for those unable to pay for expensive services such as cell phone plans. And it's an opportunity that's being denied them by a company that so often takes the lead in making information and services available to the world.
I'll be keeping my eye on this policy and I hope to see changes soon:
You can see the "Help" page to see for yourself just how inaccessible this policy is.