Take control of new Google privacy settings


Are you one of the estimated 425 million people with a Gmail account? If so, take a minute to understand how Google’s new ‘email anyone’ feature can deliver emails from total strangers straight to your inbox.

We’ll also take a look at what else we may have inadvertently signed up to when we become part of Google’s world, as Google decides to opt us in to arguably the largest email marketing experiment to date.

When we sign up to a service like Gmail, we’re required to accept the terms and conditions – even the one that says that the terms and conditions can change without notice at any time!

Sometimes settings and features do change overnight – such as the introduction of tabbed inboxes – and we just simply stumble through until we figure out what on earth is going on.

Other times Google may hint at, or notify email users about a change, as it has with the new ’email anyone’ feature. But it’s easy to miss these signs, and we need to dig deeper to find out more about how to make these changes work for us.

So what’s changed?

Google made a couple of significant changes to its privacy terms in recent weeks. Perhaps the most significant is that anyone who has a Google + account can now email you, whether you know them or not. Google claims your email address is secure, and that your actual email address is not revealed to the sender unless you reply to their email. But if you make the mistake of replying – such as to say you don’t know them or you’re not interested in what they are offering – then they’ve got you.

Google advises that if you do receive an email from some random person you’re not interested in, just ‘Report Spam’ or ‘Abuse’, and hope that Gmail’s spam filter recognises them the next time they try to email you.

On the flipside, if you did decide it was worth doing some ‘cold calling’ via Google + accounts, it’s not clear whether your email address could be blacklisted through Gmail’s community filter if people are only given the option to class your email as spam or abuse . Perhaps introducing a ‘Delete and Block Sender’ option would better way of sorting malicious contacts from purely undesirable ones.

Is Google’s new ‘email anyone’ feature set to unleash a new wave of spam?

Quite possibly. Spam is simply defined as ‘unsolicited messaging’, and Google has now rolled out the tools to allow you, and everyone else, to do exactly that. Basically Google has compiled the world’s largest email subscriber database.

Legally, the debate is likely to revolve around whether simply signing up to use Google’s webmail service is sufficient to be considered ‘inferred consent’ – that is, that by signing up to use Gmail or Google +, you’re likely to want to be in direct contact with potentially every other person who uses the service worldwide.

We have been ‘opted in’ by default

Perhaps the key take-away of this article is that if you are a Gmail user it is likely you have automatically been opted in to this mass marketing exercise. This does not appear to be different if the email user is a child (in most countries, Google allows users 13 and over to open a Gmail account).

If this level of exposure doesn’t suit you (or your child!), it is easy to take control of new Google privacy settings.

If you select the ‘cog’ icon from your inbox, scroll down and select ‘settings’, then you are able to choose the level of privacy you need.

Review your other settings

While you’re tweaking your Gmail privacy settings, why not also log in to your Google + account and see what default settings are recorded there. Among other things, you’ll be able to choose whether you allow Google to show your profile picture and reviews as a ‘shared endorsement’ to users who are searching for companies and services you may have reviewed in the past.

Google offers users an amazing service, and most of us would be happy to give something back in return. But just because you buy us a drink Google, don’t just assume we’re going to want to stay the night.

Image credit: Notoriousxl

Heidi McElnea

Heidi manages written communications for the various digital and print design services offered by Orion Creative. It’s a colourful blend of website and social media content, email marketing, e-learning, copy for print and scripts for voice overs.

One reply on “Take control of new Google privacy settings

  • Heidi McElnea

    Hi Tiff,

    If you’re up to speed with this and didn’t need more information about Google’s automatic opt-in then all power to you!

    This blog post is inclusive, aimed at women with a range of levels of familiarity with tech. And with so many new devices and software in our lives these days, it doesn’t help to cover the basics.

    Thanks for reading.

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