Bypassing an Outlook Dark Pattern

Tldr: Outlook on Android tries to force you into linking Outlook to your Google Account, giving itself access to more data than you might want. I found out that can be bypassed by quickly toggling the internet connection off at the right time.

Switching Mail Clients

For reasons not important for this story, I installed the Outlook App for Android on my phone yesterday. After creating an Mail-Account, I noticed there is an option to add more Mail Accounts. After a deliberate train of thought (which was basically “why not”) I uninstalled my then-mail app and decided to move all my mail accounts to Outlook.

Adding my first mail account was pretty straight forward. I had to enter my mail address and Outlook then prompted me with several options to add this account, one of which was IMAP. Took me about 5 minutes for the whole process and it was as painless as setting up all IMAP/SMTP settings can be. After that, only my Gmail Account had to be added, which is where things got aggravating.

“Sign in with Google”

Upon entering my gmail address to be added to Outlook, it did not show me the various options I was able to choose from before. Instead, I instantly got redirected to a “Sign in with Google” Page. After choosing my account, Google showed me which permissions Outlook wanted to be granted:

  • Reading, sending and deleting Mail (Perfectly fine, thats what I want)
  • Read, edit, create and delete GDrive data (wtf no? I want email)
  • Read, edit, download and delete contacts (Huh? Reading I them I would’ve understood…)
  • Read, edit, share and delete all Calendars accessible by Google Calendar (I JUST WANT EMAIL FOR FUCKS SAKE!!!)
  • Reading and downloading my exact birthdate (… I can’t even think of a reason for that one)

Don’t get me wrong, I assumed that Microsoft may or may not be able to read my Mails when I decided to use Outlook. I have not read their Data and Privacy policy so I don’t know if they actually do that, but I am aware that they might. But I don’t want to have outlook access anything other than my Emails.

So naturally, I did NOT grant these privileges to outlook and pressed cancel. Which booted me right back into the start screen. But I know Gmail works with IMAP. I have used it before. So that isn’t the reason Outlook does that. I searched all the settings. I googled. Nothing. For other Email addresses, it would eventually show me a “setup account manually” option, and then give me the option to use IMAP. Not with gmail.

Then I tried to add another email via IMAP and just change the name. But the field was explicitly not changeable. At this point I realized that this HAS to be on purpose. Trying to make adding your Gmail easier via Google Sign-In is fair… I guess. But going out of your way to explicitly not allow Gmail via IMAP, that just smells fishy.

Can’t change the Address in the IMAP Settings

Trying to get around it

As seen in the video above, my first attempts were unsuccessful, and most people would’ve (rightfully so) cursed at Microsoft for this piece-of-crap “design decision” of theirs, and then either uninstalled Outlook or given up and used the Google Sign In (which is probably what Microsoft wants to happen). But not me. Because I apparently enjoy wasting my time.

Anyways, I remembered a glitch from Pokémon I used to do, in which you just turned off your console at the right moment while performing a trade to clone your Pokémon. I decided to try something similar with Outlook. I hoped by disabling the internet connection at the right moment I could trigger some “graceful error handling” or whatever. I was basically trying random stuff.

It worked on my third try.

That’s right. The method kids were using in 1999 to clone Pokémon worked against a shitty dark-pattern in Outlook. I recorded the process on my second phone. See it for yourself:

The whole Process of bypassing the “dark pattern”

If this post will have any effect, I hope someone from Microsoft realizes that it sucks to forcibly remove IMAP for (power)users specifically for Gmail. Like, let people at least choose whether they want IMAP or the Google Sign-In. I guarantee that the vast majority of people DO NOT want to bother with IMAP anyway, but why remove the option?

But in reality, all this post is probably gonna do is that the bypass might get fixed and all Gmail IMAP users will be logged out and forced to link Outlook to Google or abandon Outlook. Until that happens I am gonna use it anyway, just cause I can.

Thanks for reading.