Google Making It Easier to Connect via Email Between Gmail, Google+

Critics, however, say the Gmail and Google+ changes could infringe on users' privacy.

Google has unveiled a new feature that will let users communicate via email more easily between their Gmail and Google+ accounts, but some critics say that the changes could be an invasion of privacy.

The changes, which will allow Gmail and Google+ users to send an email to another user even when they don't have that user's actual email address, was announced by David Nachum, a Gmail product manager, in a Jan. 9 post on the Official Gmail Blog.

"Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven't actually exchanged email addresses?" wrote Nachum. "If you are nodding your head 'yes' and already have a Google+ profile, then you're in luck, because now it's easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email. As an extension of some earlier improvements that keep Gmail contacts automatically up to date using Google+, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients when you are composing a new email."

That means that as a sender begins typing the name of a desired contact into the "To" box, a list of contacts starting with the first letter of the name will appear and allow the user to send them a message, according to the post. The sender's email address is only shared with the targeted recipient and the recipient's email address is only shared if he or she agrees to receive the message, the post states.

Gmail users will now find a new tool in their account "Settings" folder that allows them to designate just whom they are willing to share these opportunities with, wrote Nachum. Users can choose to allow anyone to send them such requests for email connections, or only allow people who are in their Google+ Circles or Extended Circles. Users can also choose to not allow anyone to connect with them through the new feature.

Incoming emails from known Circle members will arrive in a recipient's inbox, while messages from senders who are not in a recipient's Circles will be delivered to the user's Social inbox, wrote Nachum.

The new feature is rolling out over the next few days to everyone who uses Gmail and Google+, according to the company. Account holders will receive emails with information and a link to the setting when the feature is available.

Google developed the new feature as a way to allow people who might know each other to communicate via email even in cases where they don't have each other's email addresses, while giving users control over who may contact them.

Senders will only be allowed to send an initial email one time to a recipient and will not be able to send further messages if their initial request is not approved and reciprocated by the recipient, according to Google. At no time will the email address of the recipient be revealed if he or she does not accept the request, Google says. The goal of the feature is to allow users to interact with each other while maintaining the privacy of email addresses.

One critic of the new feature, however, Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told eWEEK in a Jan. 10 email that he's not so sure that it doesn't violate the terms of a previous Google privacy agreement that was reached with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) back in 2011.