Google’s (Unpleasant, Heavy-Handed) Father’s Day Surprise

By  |  Monday, June 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

To celebrate Father’s Day, Google inserted a line underneath the Google Voice calling feature in Gmail’s Chat feature: “Reminder: Call dad.” Sounds innocuous, huh?

Well, no. Some people who don’t have dads were understandably upset by the note. Eventually, most of us won’t have a dad to call; I’m surprised that nobody at Google figured out that the message would be at best irrelevant and at worst an unhappy little moment for a meaningful percentage of Gmail users.

Companies like Hallmark and 1-800-Flowers presumably don’t worry much about Father’s Day and Mother’s Day advertising hurting anyone’s feelings. But Google’s “reminder,” while promotional in nature, was presented as a task-like item within a piece of Web-based productivity software. That made it feel more personal. It also involved Google futzing around with an application used by millions of people. Microsoft wouldn’t insert a Father’s Day requirement reminder into Outlook–and even though Outlook is a paid product and Gmail isn’t, Google crossed a boundary which it apparently didn’t realize existed.

It’s a safe bet that Google won’t commemorate Father’s Day or Mother’s Day in this particular way again. But I hope it comes away from this with another lesson: it needs to tread gingerly when it comes to messing around with Gmail and other apps for any reason except making them better. And sometimes even then.


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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Cari Says:

    Wow! Agreed! My Dad, thank the Heavens, is still w/me, but hubby’s & roommate’s are not. Father’s Day hurts a bit for them, to say the least. I tread lightly around them on Father’s Day & other days of significance regarding their Dads. I’m very glad they didn’t see that on Gmail yesterday. Sometimes people just don’t realize the effect their words have on others. 🙁

  2. @gregdarr Says:

    What? Really? Come on Harry, most people I've talked to and heard from thought it was a pleasant surprise and quite cute. I'm sorry you've lost your dad, but most people do have fathers to call.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    For the record, my dad is still alive and well: I called him yesterday, although not via Google Voice…

    I wasn't personally offended by the "reminder," and didn't even take offense on behalf of those without fathers who saw it. It's up to those folks to decide how they feel, and I'm sure that some of them didn't object in the least. But it does seem pretty darn heavy-handed on Google's part–if they didn't figure out that some people would be nonplussed, I'm surprised. And if they did figure it out and did it anyway, I'm also surprised. It was an act of carpet-bombed promotion, not the ingenuity that Google often demonstrates.


  4. Nick S Says:

    "It was an act of carpet-bombed promotion, not the ingenuity that Google often demonstrates. "

    But social ineptitude is something that Google does pretty well.

  5. Michael Says:

    Wow, I think you and many other people need to be a bit less sensitive. It was a little piece of text, very unobtrusive.. how is that 'futzing' around with an application that millions of people use? hah. Also, how was it in any way a 'requirement'? I wasn't required in any way to call my Dad and tell him 'Happy Fathers Day' because Google told me too in my Gmail inbox space.. And of course not everyone has a Father to call on that day.. But, many many people do..

    Every article you write gets me closer and closer to finding another tech blog to follow.. all you do is cry like an old man about silly things.. I don't like this, I don't like that.. it's different, blah blah blah… Maybe everything should just stay the way it is, and nothing should ever try to advance and get better.. Just saying.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    The “requirement” was my fingers failing to type the word I meant, which was “reminder.” Thanks for catching it.

    I can’t give you any guarantees about what I’m going to like or not like in future points–the only thing I know for sure is that I’m going to say what I think. But if you hate my stuff so much, why are you bothering with it at all?


  7. @ymala1 Says:

    Hey Harry, shouldn't the title read 'Father'S day'?


  8. @ymala1 Says:

    Um… that's why it's a blog, and not a news service. The guy writes his opinions. You like them, awesome, you don't? Go ahead and air your opinions as to why you disagree in these comments, but what's with the insults? What a sad way of expressing your disagreement with someone's opinion.

  9. @ymala1 Says:

    A reminder in my chat roster? Yes, that is futzing around. Is it a huge massive deal, maybe no, but it is an issue for concern, and it wasn't like google was doing the community a service with their 'reminder' they were really just trying to hawk their calling service with the 'best rates around'.

  10. Reddog_X2000 Says:

    I lost my Dad 13 years ago. And, yesterday was very difficult for me. But, none of that had anything to do with Google's blurb.

    I seriously doubt that anyone who lost their Dad was just fine until they saw what Google said. This is just a case of people being to sensitive.

  11. Wicca Says:

    Spot on! I lost my dad in a violent way 40 years ago. It is a rare day that I do not think of him. But the Google reminder made ME think, "yes, I am a dad now, and my sons are dads, and I am so glad that there is a day for us.". This day is about all fathers, not just one.

  12. DES Says:

    This is so stupid. If you don't have a father then the reminder wasn't for you.
    Get over it.

  13. Harry McCracken Says:

    "If you don't have a father then the reminder wasn't for you."

    Bingo! Which is why I'm still startled (not offended) that Google would insert it into the e-mail of every single Gmail user.


  14. nick dafo Says:

    i am sure they only had good intentions

  15. Phoenixdna Says:

    I lost my father last year. I didn't see the reminder, but it wouldn't have upset me. This doesn't surprise me, however, coming from google. I read an article a year ago that in California they are being investigated because out of 20,000 employees only 200 were over the age of 40. So (if that is true) is shows a pretty big disconnect with the real world in some ways.