Google has decided to continue the trend of integrating all of its services by connecting the popular Gmail email service with their Google+ social networking service so that anyone can send an email to your linked Gmail account without knowing your email address.
The recently announced move has called to question the privacy implications of such a change. You may recall a similar issue arose concerning privacy and the Google Buzz social network in 2010, which ended with Google being handcuffed to a privacy oversight by the US Federal Trade Commission for 20 years (Source).
To make matters worse, Google has decided to make the new process opt-out. This means that users will have to navigate the settings of their Google account and then decide the level of access user will have to send unsolicited emails. At least, according to Google, users of the new service will not be able to see email addresses unless a recipient replies.
The Google announcement
The ability to send emails to Gmail accounts through Google+ name search was announced through a blog post by Google product manager David Nachum. The substance of his announcement is that is can be annoying to try and send an email to people how have not given you their email address and this new service remedies that problem.
This may be the most understated way to announce a new feature to your service that has the possibility of becoming a large inconvenience. Immediate comparisons to Google Buzz were made and many privacy advocates have spoken out against the change.
Gmail and Google+
The scope of the controversy could be very large when you consider the size and reach of the Google services. Google+, which launched in 2011, is said to have 540 million active users at the most recent announcement. However, since that time, Google made using Google+ mandatory for leaving YouTube comments and that will boost total Google accounts significantly.
With this many accounts active and easily searched through Google+'s name search functionality, many people who have been comfortable with net anonymity will be faced with hard choices about their online personas.
How to opt-out of the new functionality
The simplest way to protect what privacy you have in the Google ecosystem is to opt-out of the service. Luckily, the process is not too convoluted and can be quickly adjusted to an acceptable setting.
- First, in Gmail, click the Gear in the upper-right corner and then select Settings in the menu.
- Then, in the new Settings menu, look for Email via Google+. It Is located under Conversation View.
- In the Email vie Google+ drop menu, select the level of privacy for this service.
- Lastly, make sure you scroll to the very bottom of the Settings menu and click Save Your Changes.
You have four levels of privacy options in the new service, with the first being Anyone on Google+. The other three selections are exactly what they sound like: Extended Circles, Circles, and No one. Be sure to choose the selection that best fits the level of privacy you wish to have.