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The Truth Behind Google’s April Fool’s Day Prank

April 1, 2008

Leave it to the nice folks over at Google to play an ingenious but all too real April Fool’s Day prank on users of its Gmail Web-based email system. Google “introduced” Gmail Custom Time, a new setting on Gmail that allows users to backdate emails, yesterday (or maybe it was today….). Gmail users can set the custom time of an email as they compose it so that emails can be set in the past and appear in the “proper” chronological order in the receipient’s inbox. The solution uses an e-flux capacitor to backdate emails so you never have to worry about being late again.

Beta user Robby S. had this to say about Custom Time, “I just got two tickets to Radiohead by being the ‘first’ to respond to a co-worker’s ‘first-come, first-serve’ email. Someone else has already won them, but I told everyone to check their inboxes again. Everyone sort of knows I used Custom Time on this one, but I’m denying it.”

The scary truth is that, while Google isn’t really offering Custom Time, many email users can do something very similar, simply by changing the clock on their computer or server or by editing an email string to change dates, times or other important info. While it may seem harmless to some, backdating emails can result in real loss, like Robby’s co-worker who legitimately won the concert tickets. In an enterprise environment, the losses can be much more dramatic and may result in litigation, significant revenue loss and more.

We agree with beta user Michael L., an epistemology professor, “this feature allows people to manipulate and mislead people with falsified time data. Time is a sacred truth that should never be tampered with.” Lucky for Michael and many others, there are trusted time-stamping solutions to help prevent this exact type of manipulation from occurring.

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