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I am wondering, so a particular govement department here has a "Customer Self Service System". Part of that is a internal email-like system.

When Mail arrived on that system, you get an email saying "Please check your [GovDep} e-mail-like system." Then you dig around trying to find the password for a system you rarely use. Log in, open the internal email-like, almost invariably have to download a PDF. Open that and read the message.

The email that tells you it is there give no hint of what it is about. It oculd be anything from a "You have failed to lodge X, unless you do Y immediately we will do Z" to "The X has increased by 2% to match the CPI" And the informing email will still just say "you have a message waiting for you."

What are the advantages of doing it this way? Why not just send email? But I am confidant there are good reasons -- At some point someone made a decision to do this and actual time was spent implementing it.

So far reasons I can think are:

  • Can prove message was read? Or at least prove it was retrieved from there webserver
  • More secure: Not plain text?

Can these reasons be expanded on? I am no expert on email technology. What other reasons are there?

  • Do you know how old the system is? – CJF May 10 '14 at 9:16
  • I believe it was created sometime around 2007. (After digging around on the WayBack Machine)> It is being maintained and enhanced to this day. – Lyndon White May 10 '14 at 9:32
  • Notifications are used by many message boards so users do not have to visit their inbox all the time on all the boards that they subscribe to. They only have to monitor a single inbox - the one that they monitor anyway. Even SE now has notifications about items in my inbox (on the top bar). It does seem to have a "lag" so I only receive these notifications in my mail inbox when I haven't visited an SE site for some time. – Marjan Venema May 10 '14 at 12:04
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One reason is security. Sort of. By forcing the userto log in to see the content, you ostensibly ensure that only the correct person sees it. Unfortunately email is the skeleton key to online systems, and anyone with access to an email account has access to the accounts linked to it.

The reality is there is no good reason to send this sort of notification without at least sending the subject line of the internal message. For the system you described, it really should just send you the message as a proper email.

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There are two "features" behind this:

  1. Annoying users (e.g. "Why do I have to login just to read my bill!?", "What's my username and password for that site I never logged into?")

  2. If your site is really secure (starting from https all over), then higher security, as the email content in not necessarily transmitted securely over the Internet (see details here and here).

    This is only justified if the information is sensitive e.g. banking details, medical records and etc.

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