Last week Google announced that it was allowing Google+ users to send emails to other users, without knowing their email address. In practice, this means that Google+ connections show up when selecting a recipient for an email in Gmail, whether you have their email address or not. But, in future, it will effectively allow anyone with a Google+ account to send you an email to your Gmail address, even if they do not know it.
Until now, Google+ hasn’t had a proper private messaging system, unlike its main competitors Facebook and Twitter. And, rather than re-invent the wheel, Google has decided to tack this feature onto an existing, related product – i.e. Gmail.
The problem is that, by default, it’s set so that any Google+ user can contact you. You can restrict this to your ‘extended circles’ (essentially friends of friends), ‘circles’ (the people you have specifically added to your circles), or disable it completely. The setting is rather well-hidden and it took me a while to find it, even after referring to Google’s Help Centre. But unless you specifically opt-out, Google+ will allow just about anyone the ability to send you an email.
In fairness to Google, they have emailed all Gmail users advising them that this change was to take place.
For me, this isn’t really a problem. My email address is already public, as is my Google+ profile and most of the things that get published there. So, I will probably leave this enabled.
But for others, this will be decidedly creepy. Your email inbox is quite personal, and at the moment you have the choice whether to give someone your email address. For Gmail users, Google seems intent on taking away that choice – if you’re findable on Google+, then people can message you.
By comparison, Twitter only allows people to send you direct messages if you follow them. And on Facebook, although non-friends can message you, they are siphoned off into a reasonably well-hidden ‘Other’ inbox that most people won’t check very often.
These emails from Google+ will instead show up in your regular inbox, will ping your phone if you have mail alerts enabled, and will reveal your email address to the sender if you reply. Users of Gmail on the web, or its official mobile apps, will see the emails in the ‘Social’ tab. But if you use, say, the built-in mail app on your phone, these messages will be effectively indistinguishable from normal emails.
Whilst I would happily enable this if it was opt-in, I think Google is wrong to force this on people. I know many people who do not want to be so easily contactable.