Pat Pilcher: Unsolicited email likely with new Gmail feature

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There's an old saying that goes "If it ain't broken, don't fix it". By this I'm talking about the constant tinkering that goes on with products and services, most of which is sadly done to their detriment.

A clear example of this is Gmail and Google+, whose users will soon be getting email from people they don't even know. This is thanks to a "refinement" that cross-links Gmail with Google+ and sees Google+ connections suggested as potential mail recipients when Gmail users type in email addresses. NO email addresses are needed.

Google let Gmail and Google+ users know about these updates last week via email. Part of their pitch was "Ever wanted to email someone you know, but haven't yet exchanged email addresses?". Gee that hasn't stopped half the world's spammers, but hey what the heck.

To their credit, Google went to considerable lengths to point out that email addresses aren't visible to other Google+ users until you send them an email, and in turn the receivers' email addresses are also not visible unless they respond with an email.

That won't however be much of a consolation should the trickle of unsolicited emails hitting Gmail accounts turn into an avalanche with this new "feature".

So if Gmail isn't broken, why the hell is Google fixing it? The most likely rationale behind their move is that they want to drive users to Google+, although the wisdom of alienating the users of other Google products seems more than a little risky. This said, Google have already incurred the wrath of many by restricting YouTube comments to Google+ and handing out Google+ accounts to anyone signing up for Gmail.

Thankfully getting around this troublesome new "feature" shouldn't be terribly difficult. Google+ users who don't wish to receive unsolicited messages can jump to the Gmail or Google+ help pages which should have instructions on how to change settings so that only messages from people already added to Google+ circles will be received (similar options should also exist for Gmail users).

Bizarrely Google have decided that some people will receive immunity to the new Gmail/Google+ "features". Celebrity users won't be deluged by fan mail. Unfortunately us ordinary people aren't so lucky.

Negative sentiment can spread like wildfire across the Internet. Annoy or aggravate enough people and word quickly spreads. Back in 2004 there were few alternatives as feature rich as Gmail, but nowadays, there's dozens of other services such as Outlook.com stepping into the breach that are well positioned to take advantage should this move prove to be sufficiently annoying to Google users.

- NZ Herald

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