Google is about to include some controversial new features in your GMail account: updates on activities by your GMmail contacts.
The coming feature is being reported by Google Operating System, which is a reliable blog that follows Google.
According to that blog, the updates will be shown in the chat box on the left of your GMail account, and will reveal online actions taken by your contacts even if you haven’t explicitly chosen them as your “friends.” We haven’t seen the feature yet.
Update from Google: “We’re always looking at ways to improve the Gmail experience, but we don’t have anything specific to announce at this time.”
The news emerges after concerns Google is already violating our privacy by sharing things about what we do without explicitly asking our permission. See our coverage about the Google Reader controversy.
It’s not clear what kind of updates you will receive in GMail, but they’re probably the latest actions of your contacts from different Google services, such as photos they may have added in Google’s photo service, Picasa, or changes they’ve made to their personal profiles — though this is speculation.
GMail’s code suggests that you’ll be able to delete the updates you don’t like, reply by email or post a comment. However, yet again, the report suggests this will be an opt-out, rather than an opt-in. We’ll reserve judgment until we see the features. But if true, Google is moving too quickly to try to be like Facebook. Facebook’s continuous feed gives you updates about friends you’ve accepted and that’s ok because Facebook has always been a social network. What’s jarring about such a move by Google is that for many of us GMail has been a professional utility feature. Our address book is filled with contacts that may not be our friends. If this feature comes as reported, this could be a creepy new year from Google. Let’s hope it isn’t, and that Google makes this an opt-in feature from the outset.
We’ve requested comment from Google, and will update accordingly.