Privacy row hits Google as Google+ users get the power to send email to strangers on Gmail
Google has set off another privacy row by making changes to Gmail that are intended to bolster its social network Google+. Gmail users fear the changes will let strangers contact them without needing to know their email address.
The new feature – which is coming to all Gmail and Google+ users within the next couple of days – lets Gmail users send email to anyone they have as a contact in Google+. People sending email in this way won’t see the address of the person they are mailing to, so Google isn’t actually sharing the email address, but critics say this will encourage spam, since the feature is set to allow incoming messages by default.
Gmail inboxes open to spam?
Google presented the feature as a way to ease communications: “Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven’t actually exchanged email addresses?” Gmail product manager David Nachum said on the official Gmail blog. “Now it’s easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email.”
The blog explains that there is a setting by which users can turn the feature off so Google+ contacts cannot mail them unless they know their email address. It also clarified to The Verge that the setting would be emailed out to users before the feature is switched on.
If an email is sent by this method from someone who is not in your Google+ circles, it will be filtered into Gmail’s “Social” tab where it will be arguably less annoying.
But critics quickly focused on the unwanted messages the feature will allow. “For countless users, this is simply opening a door to their email box to spammers, strangers and creeps”, commented Tuaw.
Others saw this as another effort by Google to force uptake of its Google+ social network which claims to have more than 400 million active users, but is still in the doldrums compared to the likes of Facebook or Twitter, having had its figures artificially boosted by measures such as requiring users to have a Google+ account in order to make comments on YouTube videos.
Digg founder Kevni Rose criticised the move, saying “this feature doesn’t add anything except trying to force gmail users into google+, arguing that if Google+ users needed a messaging service, it should have one of its own, like Facebook.
(my opinion) If Google+ users need to communicate build an internal messaging tool, connecting gmail doesn't make any sense…
— Kevin Rose (@kevinrose) January 9, 2014
This week, the French privacy regulator, CNIL imposed a €150,000 fine on Google for handling privacy concerns incorrectly, when it altered privacy policies for all its users.
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