During the transfer of Harvard @college email accounts to new Google hosted accounts, a handful of students received emails from individuals who share their surname, raising privacy concerns for some who chose to switch email systems.
Thousands of students have successfully accessed their new Google hosted @college email accounts, and fewer than ten students have experienced the glitch, according to Sarah O’Connell, a spokesperson for Harvard University Information Technology.
The transition replaced an outdated, difficult-to-use email client with a Google-powered interface that closely mirrors the popular Gmail email service.
In the week following the August 15th switch to a gmail interface, 3,900 students accessed their new Gmail-hosted @college account, O’Connell said.
But some students found that their emails were ending up in a stranger’s inbox.
For years, Harvard undergraduates used @fas email addresses, but starting in fall of 2009 the College began a transition to @college accounts. New students were given @college accounts while older students were given the option to switch or keep their @fas address.
In August, the College moved students’ email accounts onto Gmail servers and assigned @college addresses to those who chose to use the new service. Emails to their old accounts were forwarded to their new addresses.
If a student’s @fas username had been taken by a younger student on @college, he or she was provided with a separate username—but the service that forwarded emails to the students’ new accounts sometimes overlooked this detail.
For example, the email belonging to Kane Hsieh ’12, a Crimson photo editor, had been firstname.lastname@example.org while Karina Hsieh ’13 was email@example.com. So Kane Hsieh appended his class year to his email address to become firstname.lastname@example.org.
But during the transition period, emails sent to @fas accounts were forwarded to the same username on an @college account—Karina Hsieh’s email account.
Bethina Liu ’13, who is also a Crimson photo editor, found herself in a similar situation. She described the process of fixing the forwarding glitch as “drawn-out” and “involved.”
“They really should’ve thought this through before—it’s a big transition,” she said. “This was a pretty big breach of privacy.”
Because her newfound email partner had not responded to repeated emails from HUIT—and phone calls from Liu—she is still left to be receiving emails from the other Liu.
When Kathy K. Wang ’14 signed into her new email account, she found messages in her inbox that were not intended for her and realized that emails for the other Kathy Wang in the Class of 2014 were being forwarded to the wrong address.
“Fortunately nothing bad happened,” Wang said. “It would have been [a problem] if I were in school, but since it’s the summer I don’t really use my @college account very much, so I wasn’t getting that many interruptions.”