In Google’s continuing quest to unite its various products into a candy-colored whole, the company has begun integrating Google+ contacts into Gmail.
To anyone with massive numbers of Google+ contacts, that prospect sounds horrifying on the surface—doesn’t that mean total strangers could swamp your inbox at will? But Google has taken steps to ensure that a degree of privacy remains in place: although Gmail will now attempt to auto-fill the recipient field with Google+ contacts whenever you type out an email address, those connections won’t be able to see your email address until you actually send that message; conversely, their email will stay invisible until they send you an email in return.
For those who don’t want their Google+ contacts invading their Gmail, a new setting in the Gmail control panel will shut that feature off—and keep in mind that this is an opt-out feature, so you’ll need to actively click around if you want nobody from Google+ reaching out to you:
“Emailing Google+ connections also takes advantage of Gmail’s new inbox’s categories,” David Nachum, Google product manager, wrote in a Jan. 9 posting on the Official Gmail Blog. “When someone in your circles emails you, the email will appear in the Primary category. But if you don’t have them in your circles, it will be filtered into the Social category (if enabled) and they’ll only be able start another conversation with you if you respond or add them to your circles.”
This higher degree of Google+ integration will hit Gmail users’ mailboxes over the next few days; Google plans on sending a link and message to each user once the feature is activated for them.
By the end of 2013, Google was boasting that some 300 million people were active on the Google+ social network. If Google’s numbers are accurate, that represents a significant jump in users from the end of 2012, when the company claimed it had 135 million users active in the Google Plus activity stream. By May 2013, that number had risen to 190 million people in the Google Plus activity stream, with another 390 million using Google’s social tools across all its services (Google insists the latter number stands at 540 million people). That means some 110 million new people began using Google Plus in the last six months of 2013—a rapid acceleration in growth compared to the first half of that year.
In other words, it seems that Google’s effort to make its social network more engaging—and thus draw in more users—is paying off. But in its continuing efforts to make itself into the all-inclusive portal for the Web, Google risks aggravating peoples’ privacy concerns yet again.