In the wake of the Snowden leaks (Visit this link to see how Tech companies have responded to these leaks), the NSA mass surveillance programs and people posting their check-ins and status updates with locations on Facebook, Linkedin, Google+ etc., privacy has definitely become a myth. However as individuals we do love to make a hue-and-cry over every change which might have a potential effect on our privacy.
A recent change to the way Google+ and Gmail exchange information has caused quite a stir, with users of the services crying foul. Google has, by default, enabled a feature in Google+ which would allow Google+ users to send an email to any other Google+ user, which would then be directly delivered to the recipients' Gmail address. Google+ users have had the privilege of sending email messages to one another directly earlier as well, the change is that you can now find people you follow on Google+, directly in your Gmail. The controversial aspect however, is the fact that Google has turned on this feature by default, for everybody.
What this implies is that if someone doesn't know your email address, or you have not solicited emails from them earlier, people can add you to their Google+ circles and send an email to you on Gmail. So basically, "anyone on Google+" can contact you now. However there is no reason to be paranoid. Even though anyone on Google+ can mail you, your Gmail address is kept private – nobody gets to see your email address. This has definitely been Google's oversight to limit trolling and spam propagation to your Gmail.
Google's decision to turn on the feature by default for everybody may seem controversial at first sight; however the potential for this feature to be used positively is great as well. In my personal opinion, this feature appears to be a Google salvo directly targeting the professional social network – Linkedin. People use Linkedin for sending unsolicited networking requests and emails for during the job hunting process. Linkedin however, charges users for the feature of sending unsolicited networking requests. On Google+, this feature is not only free, but is potentially a better tool than Linkedin's feature, because your email reaches the recipients Gmail and thus has a higher chance of actually being read.
Also if you're an expert in a particular field and you have quite a following on Google+, this feature becomes more useful in keeping you connected to your audience. People can directly reach you and request your expertise or advice.
The picture is not all rosy though, the chances of trolls using the feature to spam us is definitely higher, but spam is something we have already been living with and the trolls aren't going to go away anytime soon. We believe that Google has had its fill trying to push against the tide of Facebook and now want to take their chances on the professional networking scene as well. This might very well be the first of many more changes to come to Google+ which could be aimed at professional users. But, we speculate. Only time will tell in which direction Google will take Google+.
In case you would like to opt out of the feature, you would need to access the desktop version of Gmail (the mobile version will not help you here). On your Gmail screen, click on the gear icon on the right hand corner of the screen to access the Settings option. By default you should be on the "General" tab in settings, if not, click on the General tab. Scroll down until you find "Email via Google+" section (see the screenshot below)
Click on the drop down menu and you'll get four options – "Anyone on Google+", "Extended Circles", "Circles" and "No One". Depending on your preferences, select the privacy level you are most comfortable with and click the "Save Changes" button on the very end of the page.
In conclusion, privacy in the digital – especially in the Google – era is something of a myth. We ourselves are responsible for giving away our privacy as evidenced by the myriad tweets, location updates, Facebook status updates and check-ins we do every day. The scope of this article does not include for us to go on a rigmarole of privacy vs. convenience. However the choice of being open is a personal one and as individuals we have to decide on how much open we want to be. This new feature of Google+ does infringe on that choice by being turned on by default for everyone by Google – a controversial decision. Nevertheless, Google has definitely given us the dilemma of choice – What would you choose Mr. Anderson – the red pill or the blue pill?
Do let us know in the comments below.
Edit – In case you do not respond to an email, the sender won't be able to mail you any further. The emails thus received also have the "Report Spam or Abuse" link, which is definitely a deterrent for anyone trying to abuse this feature. Thanks to Mark and LaDonna for pointing this out.