Google just ignited a firestorm of protest with yet another attempt to jumpstart its Google+ don’t-call-it-a-social network.
The search giant today announced a way for people to send you an email to your Gmail account via Google+, and to allow you to do the same with others. The feature will roll out in the next couple of days.
The move has CEO Larry Page’s fingerprints all over it, since he has been pushing on a number of fronts to get more people to use Google+ in an apparent attempt to blunt Facebook’s momentum. (Though one could argue that he might as well let Snapchat and others do it for him.)
In fact, this is the second time in the last two years that Page has pushed the envelope pretty far beyond what many reasonable people think is wise. In January 2012, Google said it would incorporate photos and posts from Google+ into search results for people signed into Google services, causing another uproar.
Google clearly realized there would be privacy implications, since it not only isn’t showing the actual email address to people with whom you haven’t already emailed, and you can opt to limit your exposure to varying degrees, including letting no one contact you via Google+.
Nonetheless, the fact that you have to opt out or face the prospect of lots of relative strangers invading your email box is angering a lot of people. Some sample tweets:
* I’m leaving Gmail this weekend,” says @violetblue.
* “Already drowning in email and Google makes it easier for PR people to flood my email? No thanks,” says Techdirt CEO Mike Masnick.
* “it’s just really f***ed up to me how much sway the G+ team must have in order to leverage trusted gmail to do this,” snaps Mike Isaac, senior editor at Recode.net.
* “Let’s be clear: if you launch a new feature where everyone gets access to your inbox, you need to make it OPT IN, not OPT OUT,” chides Joshua Topolsky.
* Even at least one Googler, Kevin Rose, a general partner at Google Ventures, doesn’t sound happy: “(my opinion) If Google+ users need to communicate build an internal messaging tool, connecting gmail doesn’t make any sense…”
Honestly, it doesn’t make all that much difference to me, since I use my Gmail for business and am not especially secretive about it. I already get a lot of pitches, up to dozens a day (or more during CES this week), so I may not notice much difference. But I can certainly understand why most people who use Gmail could find this very intrusive. If you want to know how it works and how to deal with the change, check out Danny Sullivan’s great FAQ.
It will be interesting to see if Google backs off and makes this opt-in. But I suspect the backlash will probably have to be pretty severe among a large number of people, not just vocal tweeters, for that to happen.