How would you like to be able to email someone whose email address you don’t have? If you use Gmail, a feature like this is rolling out to users right now. Sound useful? Sound spammy? Perhaps a bit of both.
Here’s how it works: If you’ve ever created a Google account to use any Google products, such as Gmail, a profile has been created on your behalf in Google’s social network, Google+.
Many people leave their profiles lying dormant; some don’t even know it exists. The profile is associated with the login used to create the Google account. Here’s an example of what a dormant profile looks like:
The new Gmail feature connects Google’s mail service to Google+. So, if you don’t have someone’s email, but that person is on Google+, you can presumably email that person.
This image from Google illustrates the process of composing an email with the new Google+ integration. Google says it will suggest people you are connected with on Google+ who you may be trying to reach when composing an email:
Some attributes of the service are not easy to understand as explained by Google. For example, Google says the suggest option (shown above) only returns people who are in your circles.
In fact, Google clearly states, “You can only send emails to your Google+ connections with the desktop version of Gmail.”
However, in the next breath, the post talks about what to do if you receive email from someone not in your circle:
“If you get an email from someone who is not in your Google+ circles, you can decide whether you want to receive future emails from that person.”
The question remains, how does a person email someone not in their circles, especially if it doesn’t come up in the suggest box? And when they are referring to circles, does it mean people you’ve added to your circles, or people who have added you to theirs?
Couple this confusion with the fact that the default setting for this new Gmail feature is that “anyone on Google+” can email you, and you can see how this could get a bit sticky.
There are privacy settings, however, and ways Google is attempting to not only limit the information shared, but also give people the information they need to control their settings.
First, Google says email addresses are not visible to either party until after the initial emails are sent to one another. Second, Google is rolling out announcements of the new feature to Gmail inboxes everywhere, letting people know how they can control this new feature.
The announcement tells users to go to their Gmail settings to set email options. Heading there, you can change the default email setting from “Anyone on Google+” can email you to “Extended circles,” “Circles” and “No one.”
If someone in your circle emails you, Google says it goes to your primary inbox. But if they are not in your circles, “they’ll only be able start another conversation with you if you respond or add them to your circles.”
That message will look something like this, according to Google:
With all the confusion on how this new feature works and what it means for privacy, here’s hoping there will be further instructions by Google on the Gmail and Google+ integration.