Saturday, February 11, 2006

Google + Chat = Invasion of Privacy

Earlier this week I logged into my Gmail and saw this message: "New! Chat is coming soon." I logged in and noticed a little balloon icon in my email folders. Fine. No biggie. Then a little box popped up. Hi! I had an IM. Then I had another. Hi again! And another. And another. And another. No joke. Little orange boxes were popping up everywhere. Some were from frequent correspondents, others were, I'm sure, inspired by random acquaintances looking at the easily-accessible list of who happened to be online. Upshot: If you have Gmail, and you're online, anyone else with a Gmail account to whom you have ever sent an email can see when you're online and drop you an IM.

There was a lot of grousing about Gmail and privacy invasion when Google revealed that it would run ads tied directly to content. I don't much care about that; I find it amusing to see what the trolling Google-bot comes up with (certain emails inspire much unintentional hilarity). However, this I find annoying and intrusive. I did not opt in, I did not designate specific contacts as buddies, and I did not invite anyone to IM me through Gmail. Yet yesterday, that capability was made suddenly available, wehther I liked it or not. Don't care to hear from X, Y or Z? Tough luck. Google has shifted the burden to you.

Consider if you'd blocked some skeevy guy on AIM. But, you'd emailed. Suddenly he sees you're online via Gmail and drops you a note. It puts the onus of rejection on you. Now, whether or not you should be a grown-up and tell him you're just not into him is one thing, but frankly, that's not Google's decision to make (honestly, you're great. Things are just really busy right now).

Other applications allow you to set your contacts and ease in according to your comfort level. You can switch yourself on and off or block users. Why should Google just bust in there and suddenly broadcast to the world that you're online and available? I have HUNDREDS of contacts in my Gmail. I do not have time to switch people off. And I don't care to switch myself to invisible because there ARE people I'd like to hear from. And I would have happily opted-in to do so, given that choice. Google is like a big ol' puppy, leaping into the fray with it's tongue hanging out and slobbering all over you. Yes, honey, you're very cute but please, Mommy's busy now. Ew. Now I have spit all over my leg.

I'm not saying Google Chat isn't a great application. It is, and smart -- it's obviously convenient and synergistic to have chat and email available in one platform, and digital packrat that I am I love the automatic archive feature (so does the Unofficial Google Blog, aka the Google Watchblog). But just because it's great doesn't mean I have to like it, or want it, or have the time to deal with it right now.

It's true, a big part of customer satisfaction is convenience. But equally important in that equation is choice.

Chat + Email = Crazy Delicious [GoogleBlog]
REVIEW: Google Gmail Chat [The Unofficial Google Weblog]