Gmail: Getting Email from Strangers?

Yesterday, Google unveiled yet another change to Gmail that has privacy advocates in a tizzy and many users loudly crying foul. The newest feature, which attempts to further cement integration between Gmail and Google+, allows users to email anyone using the network even if email addresses were never exchanged.

Google Product Manager, David Nachum, asked in a blog post if readers had ever experienced that frustrating moment, when halfway through composing an email, they realized they didn’t have the intended recipient’s email address. He went on to say that it was a lucky day for people with Gmail and Google+ accounts, as a new setting will appear called “Email via Google+.” Contact information will now be culled automatically, updated, and auto-suggested. Problem solved?

Mashable, PCWorld, TechCrunch and others have pointed out that users are still in control of their inboxes and shouldn’t freak out. Email addresses are visible only to users who are actually communicating with each other via email. In other words, I have to email you for you to see my address and vice versa. Meanwhile, email from users outside your circles will be placed in the “social” tab. If you don’t respond, Google will block future messages from that person.

As with most of Google’s updates, users can opt-out, or limit the feature to certain circles.  That, some feel, is part of the problem; Gmail users should have had the choice to opt-into receiving communications from Google+ members.

Opt-in?

Does anyone remember the Buzz debacle? Buzz was a social networking, micoblogging, and messaging tool that Google unveiled in 2010.  Buzz combed Gmail users’ contact lists to create social networks that all the world could see and chaos ensued. Privacy laws were violated and the FTC launched an investigation that resulted in Google agreeing, among other things, to independent privacy audits for 20 years.

Buzz was shuttered in late 2011, but its ghost seems to be lingering. Will the FTC step in determine if these new Gmail developments violate the consent order? Should they? Let us know what you think below.

Stay tuned!

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