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Google Makes Private Messaging Someone Easier... World Freaks Out.

Jan 14 2014, 1:06pm CST | by , in News

Google Makes Private Messaging Someone Easier... World Freaks Out.
Photo Credit: Forbes
 
 

Google’s growing portfolio of sentient devices filled with sensors collecting information about the world includes its search engine, its Android phones, its Street View cars, its driverless cars, its new robots, and as of yesterday, Nest, smart thermometers that collect information from inside people’s homes, including whether they’re moving. Given the sheer volume of information that Google has access to, it’s understandable that people are freaking out about privacy in the context of its latest sensor binge. What’s odd is that people seem to be freaking out more about a change that Google made to Google Plus last week.


Yet another reason I want to quit email all together,” tweeted the Nation’s Jessica Valenti. “Ugh, Google why?” responded the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman. The New York Times compared the roll-out to the infamous arrival of Buzz, when Google made everyone’s private Gmail contacts public to the world. “Guaranteed controversy to follow,” reports the Verge. One of CEO Larry Page’s biggest mistakes, said my colleague Rob Hof.

Holy s*#%. WHAT IS COMING? Is Google adding a Chat Roulette feature to Gmail so that you can sign into another random user’s account and peruse their inbox? Are all private gmails older than 180 days going to be made public on Google Plus by default? Is Google going to scan everyone’s emails for scandalous photos and send them to our bosses and parents?

Nope. In a few days, Google is going to start allowing you to send private messages to other people on Google+ using Gmail. So if your attempt to send them an email at firstname.lastname@gmail.com fails, then you can turn to Google Plus to get an email in their inbox. The “Gmail team” is informing its hundreds of millions of users about it this week. Their email says: “Ever wanted to email someone you know, but haven’t yet exchanged email addresses? Starting this week, when you’re composing a new email, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients, even if you haven’t exchanged email addresses yet.”

If you don’t want just anybody to be able to send you a private message, you have to change the default setting in your email settings. “It took 31 seconds, because I am really slow,” writes my colleague Michael Humphrey. Unless you’re a very popular Google Plus user, in which case the default is that only people you’ve mutually circled can hit you up with a private message. Sorry, but that means you can’t use Google Plus to get an email to Sergey Brin (with 5 million followers) or Marissa Mayer (with 600,000 followers) unless they’ve circled you back. (The latter by the way hasn’t posted there since she left for Yahoo.)

I get it. Everyone’s overwhelmed by their email and hates spam, but I’m a bit dismissive of the privacy concerns on this one, because it’s easy to turn this off if you don’t like it, and because I actually like the idea of it being easier to privately contact people. I may be jaded because I’m a journalist. I often want to get in touch with strangers when I’m reporting out stories, and that can be hard to do. If I try to send them a message on Facebook, I’ll be hidden in their shadow inbox if I’m not friends with them. LinkedIn wants me to sign up for a Premium Account before it’ll let me private message someone. Twitter briefly played around with letting people accept DMs from people they don’t follow, but reversed course, and now you have to publicly tweet at someone to get their private contact message or beg them for a follow back. And even when you do manage to private message someone on Twitter, things can go awry. Ask Anthony Weiner, Alison Pill, or billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

Many of these ways of messaging force you to form a semi-permanent connection with someone (by friending or following them) just to exchange a message or two, and in some cases that reveals more information about you by giving them access to your profile. Otherwise, you have to write what you want to say on their public wall. Google’s approach seems less ham-fisted, and at the end of the day, isn’t exposing horribly private information. You only get to see a person’s email address if they email you back. And it’s letting you do something you could probably have done regardless; most people’s email addresses are pretty guessable.

Any time Google makes a change to the way information is shared, it’s easy to get out the pitchforks, but this time, I think critics should put them down, or at least lend them to those freaking out about the Nest acquisition.

Source: Forbes

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