The Google+ “Facebook Killer” beta was recently released to the “lucky few,” and the first reports point to questionable accessibility to users’ private email, not only into Gmail inboxes but to Yahoo, Hotmail and indeed to all domain names’ email addresses as well. The great potential for spam is giving the email marketing community cause for concern.

Après Google+, le Déluge de Spam

Google+ prides itself on its security settings, which allow far greater assurances that users can stay private than Facebook’s infamous transparency, and offers a plethora of options to customize that privacy. Unfortunately the default settings that most users end up living with are a free-for-all. In the “Who can send me an email?” box there are five settings:

  • Anyone on the web
  • Extended circles
  • Your circles
  • Only you
  • Custom

These varying and customizable levels of email barriers are certainly welcome, except for the fact that the default is “Anyone on the web!” What that means is that anyone at all who can see your Google+ profile can send you an email to whatever email address you have entered at signup. Note that this isn’t just a message that is read in the Google+ screens: It goes directly to your very own email address!

You Can Change Privacy Settings, if You Can Find Them

With such a gaping hole inviting mass emailing to Google+ users’ private email addresses you might think that the privacy settings are right up front and readily visible. Not quite. In order to navigate to the place where you can change the settings the sequence is:

Google+ Settings > Profile & Privacy > Edit Visibility On Profile > Send An Email

How many users will see “Send An Email” and not understand that it’s a way to set email privacy settings rather than just “Sending An Email?” For those users who do not take the time to find out, they will remain ripe targets for spam, phishers and fast-buck artists.

That’s Not All

Whenever anything at all happens on Google+, whether it be one of your circle members posting something, someone anywhere commenting on a photo after you’ve commented on it or even mentions your name in a post, you get a notification. Unfortunately the notifications are not restricted to that funereal black bar at the top of the Google Search window. By default you’ll receive an email as well, again at your private email address.

You can of course change the settings to stop these email notifications, but you have to uncheck a total of eleven checkboxes to do so. And, again, that’s only after you manage to find the right settings box.

Barrages Devalue Email

To ensure that email users are protected from phishing and other scams and that legitimate personal and permission-based email can reach the proper inboxes in a consistent manner, the entire email industry has been working very hard for well over a decade to bring the barrage of spam down to just a trickle. Google+, which is admittedly in its beta stage, currently presents a potential funnel for spammers to access private email and erode the good will email has thus far achieved. And while privacy settings can be changed, according to Consumer Reports, “in one of four households with a Facebook account, users weren’t aware of or didn’t choose to use the service’s privacy controls.” It is a legitimate concern that at least one quarter of all Google+ users will be in the same situation.

It’s likely Google+ will repair these breaches when it rolls out to the general public. The question remains, however, how did a multi-billion dollar corporation allow them to be present in the first place?