Contacts Removal - Update

Shared Contacts for Gmail Engineering Team

On July 23rd, 2019 several Shared Contacts for Gmail customers saw their number of contacts decreasing, dramatically for some of them.

Since that day, our engineers and support team have worked intensively with Google to return the situation back to normal.

What happened?

Our synchronization process works as follows:

  • Shared Contacts for Gmail regularly retrieves from Google Contacts API contacts lists of all its users
  • These contact lists show the status history of each contact (status can be "created", "updated", "deleted")
  • Note that when a contact was deleted and later the same contact was recreated later, it is considered as a single contact that had 3 status: "created, deleted, created". 
  • Shared Contacts for Gmail checks the latest status of each contact before synchronizing it
  • If the latest status is "deleted" and the user who deleted has "write permission" on this contact, then the application will remove it from the shared group for all the users.

For each contact, we normally receive the history of statuses for this contact in chronological order (ex: created, deleted, created)

For some reason, on July 23rd, we received the list of statuses in a different order. If some contacts were deleted in the past, the "deleted" status appeared as the most recent one. (we were not checking the date for faster treatment)

Therefore, Shared Contacts for Gmail falsely considered some of these contacts as "deleted" and removed them from the shared labels.

How did we find out?

As we take data privacy very seriously and we apply GDPR-compliance level to every step of our processes, we focused on analyzing our code first to make sure no bug or programming error was responsible for this disappearance.

After that only, we analyzed some of the deleted contacts with the approval of their owners, who agreed to participate in the investigation and let us compare some of their disappeared contacts with our logs, which helped us to discover the reason of the deletion.

What did we do to fix the issue?

When we found out that the history of the statuses was corrupted, we immediately:

  1. Stopped the removal process for the other customers that were not affected yet
  2. Restored the deleted contacts for infected customers
  3. Added the following patch:

    Now, when we receive a contact from Google API, we do not only take the "last" status into consideration anymore, but we first sort the status history by date.

Note that if you are concerned, after the restoration of contacts, you may have seen the number of contacts decreasing again. This is normal:

The restoration necessarily created duplicated contacts as we restored all the contacts that were backed up from Google. As Shared Contacts for Gmail automatically removes the duplicates, when synchronizing, the number of contacts after the first synchronization was logically lower if duplicates were found.

How will we prevent such a problem happening again? 

The fix we have immediately applied (checking the date of each status) will ensure that this problem does not happen again.

This simple fix solved this issue but we needed to anticipate any other similar issues that could arise.

For that reason, we took the following measures:

  • Systematically log any contact deletion by systematically saving the reason why a contact was deleted as well as the author of the deletion.
  • Hold the contact removal process if some abnormal activity is detected (if we have 15% more contact removals that the average in the same sync round, we will stop the removal process and analyze if this is normal before continuing the process )
  • Starting October 1st, 2019, we will include our developer's team to communicate directly with some of our customers for any new kind of request, so that they will have a better sense of the customer situation when a bug occurs.
  • Upgrade to the more reliable Google People API to manage contacts ( the current Google Contacts API is due to be deprecated next year and it could explain why some statuses didn't get through as usual).

What we have to say?

If you are one of the customers concerned by this setback, you must have been very upset and freaked out to see some of your contacts disappear. Anyone would have reacted the same.

But we want to say that our support team was impressed by how patient and helpful most of our customers were. We are very grateful for that!

This type of issue must never happen again, and we have learned a lot from this ordeal.

At Shared Contacts for Gmail thrive to always provide not only the best support but also the best service reliability.

We failed this time, but we are now stronger than ever to guarantee top quality of service.

All the domains that were affected will receive an extension of 2 weeks of service and will be placed on priority for the release of our new Shared Contacts for Gmail Next-Gen version (with new features to be announced soon).

The extension will be automatically applied. If you see that it was still not applied by August 15th, please let us know.

Thanks again for your patience.

Your Shared Contacts for Gmail Engineering Team

Google Contact Delegation Feature vs Shared Contacts for Gmail plugin

Share Google Contacts 

The main contribution of G Suite and Google solutions to businesses efficiency is that it allows people to collaborate more easily by taking down silos that were locking up data in specific users accounts or computers.

For instance, Google Drive allows anyone to share instantly entire folders with whoever they want and defining how they can access these documents.

Google Contacts does not offer the same flexibility out of the box, but today we will see how, in fact, we can have the same experience of sharing groups of contacts and setting permissions the same way we share Google Drive documents or even calendars.

What does Google offer out of the box to share contacts?

G Suite comes with the contact delegation feature that allows any G Suite user (not regular Gmail or free G Suite user) to delegate access to their "My Contacts" folder.

With the Google Contact delegation feature, you can select who can access to your contact, so that they can see, add or remove contacts from your address books.

However, this feature is less a contact sharing feature than a delegation of access to your contacts.

What's the difference? 

Well, this feature is mostly used by a manager to delegate the management of her/his contacts to his/her admin assistant. But the admin assistant will have access to all the contacts but will not be able to "use" them (for instance to send them emails using Gmail autocomplete, find them in their mobile phones or even find them through Google Contacts or Gmail search)

Why is Shared Contacts for Gmail different from Contact Delegation feature?

Shared Contacts for Gmail offers a real contact sharing experience to their users. For instance, I can create a label named "Vendors" or "New York Office" and share it with one or several users or even a Google group containing users.

I can also define what access permissions my colleagues have (read only, can edit, can share).

Most important, they will be able to find these contacts in grouped in the label that is shared with them (like if I shared a G Drive folder with them), find them through the search, send them email and find them in their mobile phones or Microsoft Outlook if they are using this mail client.

Only allows sharing of contacts in the “My Contacts” group.Allows sharing of several labels/address books (contacts groups).
Does not synchronize with Phones & Outlook.Contacts shared through our app can be synchronize with Mobiles/Tablets & Outlook.
Only allows “Editing Mode” for everyone. No granularity on permissions.Allows the admin to set “Read Only”, “Can Edit”,”Can Delete” permissions for each user.
Impossible to find delegated contacts through Gmail contacts search engine.Shared contacts can be found using the Gmail Contact Manager search mode.
Delegated contacts do not appear in gmail autocomplete mode.Shared contacts appear in Gmail autocomplete mode for every user.
With Google Delegation you can only give access to users in your domain.With Shared Contacts for Gmail you can share contacts with your domain users, sub-domains, external domains and users.
Shared Contacts for Gmail can be used as a mini CRM that will not come with the price of a CRM !

So we can say that Google Delegation feature is more if you want someone to manage and edit your contacts. But if you really want to share specific contacts and want to control who has access to these contacts, it is recommended to use Shared Contacts for Gmail.

Can you recall emails on Gmail?

So, you’ve got an invite to a wedding from the couple from hell! They send through email clarifications! Yeah...those people! 

We’ve all got those know the can’t bring your kids to the wedding. Even though you know when they reproduce, they’ll insist little Tarquin and Tabitha attending everything! Oh, and you can’t get drunk because of Auntie Mable who thinks drinking is evil! 

Or perhaps the worst example, you have to pay for colour coordinated outfits for the pictures! OK - well, perhaps none of us have friends this bad! They sound like the worst people ever! If anybody suggests what they did, email whatever you want, they deserve it! 

Or perhaps you work at the US Embassy in Australia and accidentally send out a picture of a cat dressed as the Cookie Monster. In which case, I think I speak for the entire ‘internet’ - just let it be sent! We all love cat pictures! 

Sometimes though we regret what we write in an email! Sometimes what you’ve typed in the heat of the moment shouldn’t be read the other end. Either you’ve been too harsh, or perhaps, it's just not worth the drama. How do you recall an email on Gmail? Unfortunately, once it is sent, it is sent! You will have to live with the consequences! There is the ability though on Gmail to give yourself extra ‘thinking room’. 

Step 1 

Click on the cog in the top right-hand corner of Gmail 

Step 2 

Click on Settings

Step 3 

Go to the ‘Undo Send’ option and select ‘Send cancellation period’ as 30 seconds. Got to the bottom of the page and save settings. In future, you’ll have 30 seconds to ‘Undo’ before the email goes out. Don’t be these people!

Why we love Flashissue

At Shared Contacts for Gmail®, we are absolutely delighted to showcase other products that you can plug-in to Gmail to increase productivity and usability even more. We particularly love these products when they are as initiative as Shared Contacts for Gmail®.

For this reason, we are eager to highlight Flashissue which is a plug-in that allows you to design and send bulk email from within your Gmail.

Flashissue allows you to concentrate on what you do well, but advertise it with professionalism. No need to go to an outside product and then import your contacts. You no longer need to train staff on a new interface. If an employee knows how to use Gmail, which almost everybody does these days, they’ll know how to use a Gmail newsletter product such as Flashissue. Flashissue is easy and intuitive, which in our opinion, exactly what a Gmail plug-in should be!

Simple ‘Drag and Drop’ Editor 

Perhaps the key consideration for organisations without designers on staff is the ‘Drag and Drop’ feature. With Flashissue you don’t have to spend hours making your email look how you want it to look. You can add any image you want and resize accordingly. Adding text is as easy as typing a regular Gmail.

GDPR Compliance 

Flashissue also makes staying legal whilst doing email marketing or sending out a non-profit newsletter a lot easier. Many people naturally worry about keeping GDPR compliant. Whilst we can’t go into detail about how to keep GDPR compliant - giving people the option to remove themselves from your existing mailing list, then removing their information from your database entirely, will go a long way in helping your firm or organisation maintain GDPR compliance. You can add an unsubscribe link inside the content of your email, pretty much in the same way as you would add any link inside Flashissue.

How you can use Flashissue day-to-day 

The real reason we like Flashissue so much is that it can help our customers send out really professional newsletters with ease, particularly those that are schools or Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) who have money or time constraints. Flashissue is particularly good if you may have only a few dozens or low hundreds of email newsletters to send out. If this is the case, configuring and paying for some of the larger email marketing providers (such as MailChimp) doesn’t make a lot of sense. Just like Shared Contacts for Gmail®, Flashissue also provides a discount for educational institutions, feel free to look at their pricing page and reach out to them for a quote.

Flashissue also allows you to track the open rate of your email newsletter.

With one click you can access reports on who opened your Gmail newsletter and see what content they find interesting. This helps you measure what messages are working for you with your audience and lets you become more effective with your marketing.

How to set emails to be ‘Confidential’ in Gmail

This ‘How To’ set emails to be ‘Confidential’ follows on from Shared Contacts for Gmail® Blog post on ‘How to schedule emails on Gmail’. As and when Google updates Gmail, Shared Contacts for Gmail® Blog will keep you up-to-date so that you can make the most out of any new features.

Why did Google make this change? 

More and more companies and individuals are using Gmail for work. There is also a greater need for organisations to keep emails (and data generally) secure. Particularly, if the emails may contain the personal information of customers. This is good practice whether or not you are legally required to be GDPR compliant. You can read the Shared Contacts for Gmail® GDPR compliance statement here.

These ‘Confidential’ emails are slightly different from regular emails sent via Gmail. This is because they are hosted (until they are permanently deleted) on Google's servers rather than been sent and stored directly in the recipient's Inbox.

These emails can’t be forwarded, copied and pasted, or even printed. They are also set to expire after a designated amount of time.

At this point, you are probably wondering why we’ve put the word ‘Confidential’ in quotation marks. Whilst it is true nobody can copy/paste, print, or forward the email to someone else. Gmail can’t stop people taking pictures on their phone or using screenshot software to store and share the email

A good rule to follow still is don’t put in an email what you wouldn’t say to someone's face (you don’t want to be one of these people)!

Step 1

Click on the ‘padlock and time’ symbol.

Step 2

The default time before the email is deleted or ‘expires’ is 1-week.

You can either control the exact date - or pick from any of the above options Google has given you.

Step 3

If you choose "No SMS passcode," recipients using the Gmail app will be able to open it directly. Recipients who don't use Gmail will get emailed a passcode.

If you choose "SMS passcode," recipients will get a passcode by text message. Make sure you enter the recipient's phone number, not your own phone number!

You can only add SMS passcodes for phone numbers from these regions:

- North America
- South America
- Europe
- Australia
- Asia: India, Korea and Japan 

So if you are sending to people outside of these regions it is probably best to stick to “No SMS passcode”.

Step 4

At the bottom of the email you are sending, you will see exactly how long the other person
will be able to access the email before Google deletes it from their system.

The bottom of the recipient's email will show them how long they have access to the email.
If they attempt to open it after this date they will not be able to view the email.

NB: After this date to ensure that nobody can access the email. Be absolutely sure to also delete the original email from your sent folder.   

How to schedule emails on Gmail

Gmail is constantly improving, although when Google they don’t tell people about it, that change sometimes doesn’t feel like an improvement. Which is why Shared Contacts for Gmail® will keep you on top of the changes. 

At the beginning of April, Gmail rolled out what are arguably the two biggest improvements to Gmail for a long time. Firstly, it is now possible to schedule the time at which your email will be sent. Secondly, you can now send ‘confidential’ emails that cannot be copied, forwarded or shared with people who are not those you’ve sent the email. 

This Blog will deal with how to schedule emails. Look out for another Blog post in the next few days on how to send ‘Confidential’ emails. 

Why did Google make the change? 

There is a big cultural shift happening in most offices in regards to work emails. There is a growing realisation that employees receiving emails ‘out of hours’ are more stressed and have worse mental health than those that can ‘switch off’ at the end of the workday. This has knock-on effects in regards to employee retention and the quality of the decisions employees make. This Gmail update is an important tool to allow the sender to schedule the time that people will receive an email. Need something acted on the next day, but want to write the email at 6pm? No need to stress people out by receiving an email on their commute home. Schedule it to be sent at 08:45 am the next day so it is fresh in the receiver's inbox. 

If you are a home worker, you can even use this tool to schedule something to go at 09:05 am so it looks like you are already busy at work. 

Then you’ve got more time for that long morning shower / first coffee. It’s OK, we don’t judge, your office colleagues know you do it. Besides, studies show you are more productive than them, so you deserve that 5-minutes extra ‘me time’.

Step 1 

Click on the downward arrow next to the send button.

Step 2 

Click on the ‘Schedule send’ button.

Step 3 

Gmail should find your correct time zone from your IP address. If not, and you are travelling, you may need to do a little math. Sorry! Nobody likes maths, we know!

Step 4 

If you want to schedule the post even further ahead you can pick a specific date and time in the future. Click on ‘Schedule send’ and then you are all set. The email will go automatically!

If you realised you accidentally set the wrong date/time - no problem!

Just click ‘Undo’ and the message will revert back to a draft and you can modify the send time.

You’ll find ‘Scheduled’ emails on the left and side of your Gmail page. If you want to cancel the send or change the send time again.

If you click ‘Cancel send’ the email will revert to the draft folder. From there you can either discard completely or change the send time/date again.