Google Is About to Let Total Strangers Email You. Here's How to Opt Out.

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 9 2014 6:14 PM

Google Is About to Let Total Strangers Email You. Here's How to Opt Out.

Google Plus users can now send emails to your Gmail even if they don't know your address.
Google Plus users can now send emails to your Gmail even if they don't know your address.

Image via the Official Gmail Blog

Google just announced a big change that, as far as I can tell, no one was asking for except perhaps the people who run Google Plus, its failed Facebook clone ubiquitous online identity service.

Starting today, the company is rolling out a feature that lets anyone with a Google Plus account send emails to Gmail users, and vice versa, unless the recipient has opted out. Here's how a Google product manager explains it:

Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven't actually exchanged email addresses? If you are nodding your head 'yes' and already have a Google+ profile, then you’re in luck, because now it's easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email. As an extension of some earlier improvements that keep Gmail contacts automatically up to date using Google+, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients when you are composing a new email.
Advertisement

Here's what that looks like:

Gmail suggests Google+ contacts

Image via Official Gmail Blog

That sounds potentially useful if you're the sender—and rather invasive if you're the recipient. Google does let you opt out, and every Gmail user will get an email from the company notifying them and pointing them to the privacy settings when the feature goes live. Here's what those privacy settings look like:

How to opt out of "Anyone on Google+" in Google settings

Image via Official Gmail Blog

But a Google spokesperson confirmed to me that the default setting will be "anyone on Google+," so you'll have to change it if you don't want strangers cluttering your inbox. Some critics have quite understandably objected to Google's making this an "opt-out" rather than "opt-in" feature.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Google is careful to note that people who send you messages in this way don't actually see your email address. In some ways that seems like splitting hairs—who needs your email address when they can send you emails without it?

But there is a difference, in that strangers can only email you once using the Google Plus feature. If you don't reply or add them to your circles, they won't be able to keep spamming you. Additionally, when someone who's not in your Google Plus circles uses the service to email you, it will go to your "Social" tab in Gmail rather than your "Primary" tab, provided you have tabs enabled. (That's yet another reason to go ahead and enable them if you haven't already.)

On balance, it sounds like this service had the potential to be convenient without being invasive—if Google had made it "opt-in" instead of "opt-out." As it is, my guess is that it's likely to annoy and confuse a lot of Gmail users who barely even know what Google Plus is and won't understand exactly what it is that Google's asking them. A Google spokesperson acknowledged that there's something to be said for "opt-in" policies from a privacy standpoint, but told me that Google felt it was better on balance to make it "opt-out" so that people could first see what it is they're opting out of.

In other words—and to be clear, these are my words, not Google's—they were afraid no one would use it. And that fear overrode the privacy concerns.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.