Google Making It Easier to Connect via Email Between Gmail, Google+
In that case, the FTC charged that Google used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers with its then-fledgling Google Buzz social application. As part of that settlement, Google agreed to adopt a privacy program as well as submit to an independent privacy audit every other year for 20 years. Under the deal, Google also must get users' consent before sharing their information with third parties if Google changes privacy promises it made after collecting users' information. The questions raised by the new Gmail and Google+ email feature are "a clear echo of the Google buzz snafu that led to the FTC investigation and consent order," wrote Rotenberg. Google launched Buzz on Feb. 9, 2010, according to a previous eWEEK report. The application lets users post status updates and share Picasa photos, YouTube videos, links and other content right in Gmail. Buzz was the company's first serious attempt at challenging Facebook and Twitter. However, Buzz engineers failed to properly account for users' privacy requirements. The application leveraged users' Gmail contacts to quickly scale large social networks of Buzz contacts. Users' Gmail friends were publicly exposed, sparking outrage from thousands of users. Google made Buzz auto-suggest instead of auto-follow. Still, class-action suits claiming Google violated users' privacy were filed. Google settled one for $8.5 million in November 2010. The new email feature is different from the concerns about Buzz, according to Google, because the Buzz application could accidentally leak the contact information of users. Under the Gmail and Google+ email scenarios, no information about users is shared unless the recipient takes action and replies, according to Google.The FTC did not reply to an eWEEK request for comment. Google+, the successor to Google Buzz, was launched in June 2011. Dan Maycock, an IT analyst with OneAccord Digital, said he "can see where Google is coming from" by introducing a new way for users to connect when they don't have each other's email addresses. "It's a nice feature to have." The problem, though, is that users have to restrict their account settings manually if they don't want to receive such requests, he said. "The thing that I think that they may want to go back and change is the automatic opt-in, versus having users opted-out" to start, said Maycock. "Some people just don't want to be contacted, and I think there's also the potential for abuse from spammers and a lot of other people."
A Google spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by eWEEK.