Science and Tech


Gmail/Google+ Integration Sparks Privacy Concerns, Backlash

By default, anyone on Google Plus will be able to send any users in their circles direct email messages.
Posted at 1:06 PM, Jan 10, 2014

Google is instituting a new email setting to further integrate its Google Plus social network with users' Gmail accounts.

By default, anyone on Google Plus will be able to send any users in their circles direct email messages, even if they don't know their target's email address.

This has understandably generated some backlash among tech watchers. Silicon Angle calls Google's changes "yet another way to shove its Google+ social network down people's throats."

And PCWorld warns, "Google is about to open your email account to a whole new level of spam."

The feature can be turned off, of course. And you won't leak your email address anywhere unless you respond to one of these emails or if you're the one sending them in the first place.

To further cut down on the potential inbox barrage, Google will automatically categorize messages from Google Plus users you don't know into the "social" tab in its latest inbox interface.

All the same, Google volunteering all of its Google Plus users for this new feature could kick off fresh privacy concerns.

The opted-in-by-default setup is a bit like Google's failed Buzz social network, which led to the FTC sanctioning Google in 2010 for misleading privacy settings.

As the Verge's Joshua Topolsky writes on Twitter: "Let's be clear: if you launch a new feature where everyone gets access to your inbox, you need to make it OPT IN, not OPT OUT."

Google will be rolling out the new feature over the next few days. Users should watch for a link in their Gmail inbox with details and instructions for opting out.