1. What do you mean by 'secure login'? Will Immersion be able to see my password?
Immersion uses a technology called OAuth
to authorize users via a Google website. The email address and password that you enter is not visible to Immersion since the login page is controlled completely by Google. Once Google verifies your credentials, Immersion is informed about that, and you are then given the choice by Google to allow/deny Immersion access to your email data.
2. If I grant Immersion access to my Gmail account, what sort of control does Immersion have?
Any app that you authorize to give access to your Gmail account -- such as an iPhone email client, or Immersion -- has complete control over your email data. There is no protocol available at the moment which allows only for partial-levels of access to email data, but the protocol allows the developers of an app to choose the data they retrieve. This is true for any app (for e.g.: email clients on your mobile phone, desktop, etc.). For more details on the exact data fields that Immersion accesses, see next question.
By default, once you authorize an app, the next time you log in to use it Google will avoid asking your permission again. Immersion makes this process more secure for you by allowing you to remove the authorization that Google provided us when you log out of Immersion (via this link
). Once you delete your metadata and revoke Immersion's access to Gmail, there is no way for Immersion to access your email data until you provide authorization again.
3. What information from my inbox does Immersion collect?
To create your visualization Immersion collects only the metadata (From, To, Cc and Timestamp) of emails. Immersion does not access the subject or body of any of your emails. Due to the architecture of the underlying protocol, technically Immersion could access any part of your email, but we chose not to. Once again, this is true of all email clients. Privacy, and users’ ownership of their data, are very important to us, so we've designed Immersion to prioritize the privacy of users and their ability to control their own data.
4. What are the steps that Immersion has taken to prioritize users' privacy and data security?
Immersion allows you to delete all your metadata upon logout, and this leaves no trace of your email metadata in our servers. We don't pseudo-delete data by just flagging it as “deleted”, or move your data to another server without your knowledge. We actually remove all the bits of your metadata instantly.
We also do not share your personal data with any third parties.
5. What are the benefits of saving my metadata?
If you decide to save your metadata upon logout, the next time you log in Immersion will not have to go through the metadata fetching process again, and your visualization will load much faster.
Immersion will also be able to use anonymized metadata to calculate aggregate statistics such as Rankings across different Immersion users who have also saved their metadata -- for instance, how connected you are with respect to the ensemble of Immersion users. Certainly, no personal information of users is revealed in either the calculation or presentation of these statistics.
6. I have authorized Immersion to access my metadata. But I can't see any visualization. What's happening?
Well, a number of things could be causing this:
⚑ Are you trying to access this using your phone, or tablet? Immersion is not compatible with all browsers, and the visualization works smoothly on a small number of mobile devices (for instance, it is too complex for the iPhone browser). If your browser is not technically compatible, we suggest you update your browser to the latest version of Google Chrome or Safari. For technical reasons, Immersion relies on client-side computation for rendering of the data (more secure for the user, and the distributed architecture helps serve more users). That’s why we do not support tablets or phones at the moment.
⚑ The site could be experiencing extremely heavy traffic, and so the metadata collection process is taking very long. You will be notified about this on the page after logging in.
⚑ Try refreshing the page (https://immersion.media.mit.edu/viz) after a few minutes. If the first batch of your metadata has been collected and processed by your browser, the visualization will be rendered using that, and you can refresh the page again later for an updated version when all your metadata has been collected.
7. The visualization does not show metadata for all my emails. Is there a limit on the number of emails Immersion can process?
Yes. In order to ensure that our server is not overloaded with data, Immersion has an upper-limit of 300,000 emails per user. We arrived at this number based on alpha testing and user feedback. Also, we need to keep in mind the technical constraints for our server's operation.
8. Some people that I expect to see in the visualization are not being shown. Why is that?
Immersion requires a minimum of 3 sent and received emails for a contact to be considered as a collaborator and be part of the visualization. This allows Immersion to filter out entities such as mailing lists, social network notifications, promotional emails, spam, etc. By default, the visualization shows the top one hundred contacts, but you can look at more contacts by using the sliders on the top left of the visualization.
Also pay special attention to the time-period for which the network is being shown.
Finally, Immersion tries to guess what addresses belong to which people, since most people tend to have multiple email addresses. In some cases, contacts in your inbox can be confused to be the same person, or to be you :-). You can find this out by hovering over your name, and that of others, in the top-right corner of the visualization. This reveals the list of email addresses that Immersion detected to be associated with that person. We collate addresses for an individual person solely based on the name seen in the emails' metadata, to avoid multiple nodes for the same person appearing in the visualization.
9. Do you have plans to release the code for this project as open source?
At the moment, the code for Immersion is still evolving, and we are focusing on providing an error-free experience for the users. In the future, we might release all or some parts of the project under an open source license, but we haven't made a decision about this yet.
10. Do you have plans to support email providers other than Gmail and Exchange?
Yes. We are looking into the possibility of adding support for other providers such as Hotmail and Yahoo, and extending Immersion to other social media, such as Twitter. We'll decide on which providers to focus on based on the feedback given by the users and certain technical constraints.
11. Can I combine multiple accounts into the same visualization?
In the current version, this is not possible. However, our team is exploring the possibility of adding this feature in a future version. Given that the development team comprises of only two students, we have to prioritize the features that need to be added based on our research schedule :-).