Privacy advocates are up in arms once again over a Google product. This time, it’s Google+ and its ability to allow total strangers to e-mail you at will.
Essentially, the search engine giant just rolled out an extension of some earlier improvements that keep Gmail contacts automatically up to date using Google+. Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients when you start typing out a new e-mail address.
“Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven't actually exchanged e-mail addresses?” asked David Nachum, a Google product manager, in a blog post. “If you are nodding your head 'yes' and already have a Google+ profile, then you’re in luck, because now it's easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over e-mail.”
Maintaining Complete Privacy
Nachum assured that these e-mails work a bit differently so that your e-mail address is only shared with the people you select. Your e-mail address isn't visible to a Google+ connection unless you send that person an e-mail, he said, and that person’s e-mail address isn’t visible to you unless he sends you an e-mail. He insists you control whether people can reach you this way with a new setting in Gmail.
If you don’t want people to be able to e-mail you via this new function, there’s a new setting in Gmail you should find and change. Google asks, “Who can e-mail you via your Google+ profile? You can choose “Anyone on Google+,” “Extended circles,” “Circles” and “No one.” That gives you freedom to maintain complete privacy.
“Emailing Google+ connections also takes advantage of Gmail's new inbox's categories. When someone in your circles e-mails you, the e-mail will appear in the Primary category,” Nachum said. “But if you don't have them in your circles, it will be filtered into the Social category (if enabled) and they'll only be able start another conversation with you if you respond or add them to your circles.”
Boosting Google+ Usage
We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the drama. He told us Google’s move is merely a way to boost usage of Google+.
“There are also a number of legitimate and valuable use cases. However, spam will result and many people may disable it. It remains to be seen,” Sterling said.
“In the abstract this form of communication online could be an ideal way to reach people and still protect privacy and guard against spam. But implementation or execution is key. It's easy to control who can contact you and if users don't want to be contacted they can change their settings in Gmail to ‘no one,'" he said.