Google is doing a thing with Gmail and Google+ that some users will find helpful. And as with such things that Internet companies do, others may find it creepy.
The company is rolling out a new feature that will let you send Gmail to people who are on the Google+ social network, even if you don’t know their email address. Google product manager David Nachum explained it this way in a blog post Thursday: If you start typing the person’s name in the “To:” field of your email, Google will suggest the names of Google+ connections, much as it already suggests the email addresses of people who are already in your address book.
Google will deliver the email to your Google+ connection, without showing you that person’s actual email address, because Google already has that person’s Gmail address.
The new feature is part of Google’s continuing effort to integrate Google+ with its other services. The social network isn’t used nearly as widely as its biggest rival, Facebook. But Google is increasingly positioning the Google+ account as a unified identify for anyone who uses any of Google’s other services (and, some believe, as a way to better target each person with tailored services and ads.)
Some critics are already complaining that the new Gmail service will, by default, allow anyone to send you an email if you’re also on Google+. As a headline writer for one tech blog, The Verge, concluded: “Google just made it really easy for strangers to email you.” A commenter on Twitter declared: “Oh god no.. Another reason to hate Google+.. they turned it into a stalking tool.”
Google, for its part, says you’ll be allowed to restrict strangers from emailing you by adjusting a new user setting, which will let you choose “who can email you via your Google+ profile.” The choices range from “no one” or just “your circles” to “extended circles” or “anyone on Google+.” In the latter case, a stranger on Google+ would have to add you to one of their circles, but could then reach you even if you hadn’t added them back.
For most people, however, the service will start with the default setting at “anyone on Google+” unless they have previously limited who could send them messages on Google+. But Google says it will send every Gmail user an email in the next couple of days, explaining the options before the service becomes functional.
The company also notes that Gmail’s new inbox categories will automatically filter these emails, so an email from someone who’s not in one of your Google+ circles will land in the “social” category, rather than clogging up your primary inbox. That’s if you’re using the new categories feature, of course. To cut down on harassing emails or spam, Google also says the sender won’t be able to reach you again unless you respond or add them to your circles.
Even so, this serves to underscore the point behind my story in Monday’s Mercury News: Internet services change their features often, so it’s a good idea to regularly review your user settings and privacy options.
(Gmail image from Google’s Official Gmail Blog)