This image is courtesy of Google, like everything in my life. (Courtesy of Google / Google) This image is courtesy of Google, like everything in my life. (Courtesy of Google)

Maybe it’s time for a new Google model. “Don’t be Evil” is too broad and over-arching. I would settle for a simple “Don’t be creepy.”

This morning I received an e-mail from a total stranger, in Romanian, which, when Google-translated (thanks, Google! How helpful!), reads as follows:

I need your help with some ideas.
Know in Buc restaurants less demanding (ie without luxury, napkins and exaggerated protocol) which eats well and traditional (like dishes, draft beer . . . etc.) with traditional wooden tables where you can laugh in his lungs without disturbing neighboring tables and listen to good music and good vibes . . . is? A restaurant where middle age may feel better. J
Gender Dipper beer. but that’s a bit expensive . . .
Thank you!

This, I thought grimly, would not have happened a mere 24 hours ago, before Google put into place a new Gmail “feature.” I put quotes around this because we need a better word. “Feature” implies an added functionality that people wanted, not an imposition no one asked for that is a mild pain to deactivate. This new “feature” lets strangers e-mail you through your Google+ account, even if you don’t know each other’s e-mail addresses. Hooray, I guess?

Whose idea was this? To say that Google+ is not universally beloved is an understatement on par with saying that Chris Christie’s Thursday was not quite what he had hoped. But making it the place where you can send unsolicited e-mails to strangers is not the way to encourage people to use it.

Google seems to think so. This morning, Google sent a cheery e-mail noting, “Ever wanted to email someone you know, but haven’t yet exchanged email addresses? Starting this week, when you’re composing a new email, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients, even if you haven’t exchanged email addresses yet.”

The good news is that you can turn this off, and if you get Stranger E-mails from this new avenue, you can stop them by not responding to the first one. “Emailing Google+ connections works a bit differently to protect the privacy of email addresses. Your email address isn’t visible to your Google+ connections until you send them an email, and their email addresses are not visible to you until they respond,” the helpful note continues.

Maybe it’ll work out. But it seems odd to make it opt-out rather than opt-in.

Who thought this up? How did the meeting go?

“Hey. Google+ has not turned out as we had hoped. It is worse-attended than a convention of tumbleweeds who are willing to admit in public that they enjoy Nickelback. It is emptier and sadder than a room full of Shia LaBeouf’s original thoughts.”

“We get it, Dave.”

“It’s just that I have been spending all the hours I’m not interacting with my friends on Google+ to come up with fun analogies.”

“Dave. We’re here to brainstorm ways to popularize this.”

“Um, how about you can use it to send e-mails to people who never asked you to e-mail them? People will love that.”


“Hey, I have another one! You know what’s sadder than a Google+ circle? Nothing. Nothing is sadder.”

If it had happened a week ago, this missive would have come to my work address. As a writer for a newspaper, I get a lot of strange stranger e-mails. Just to pick one example, for months I have been getting messages to my work address that address me dismissively as “Parker.” “Okay, Parker,” they begin. “I see that WallyWorld has penetrated your outer defense.” (Actually, this person hasn’t e-mailed me in a while, and I’m starting to get concerned.)

Sometimes they are nice e-mails, and I have no idea how to respond to them. I flag them to Answer In Detail, And Thoughtfully, Later, which is a polite way of saying I will never actually see the e-mails again. Nice e-mails are harder to respond to than e-mails from people who tell you, in an erratically capitalized manner, that you are some kind of Whore of Babylon who ought to be thrown into the ash-heap of history. Those you just delete, or, if you feel especially cheeky, you write back, “I don’t think that is the correct spelling of TURD-FACED BUNGLER” in a large, jaunty font.

But that used to be just my work e-mail. Now they’re going to come in on all sides.

Despondent, I stared at the Romanian message. I didn’t know how to begin to answer. I don’t know what Gender Dipper beer is, or why it is more expensive, or how to get away from “luxury, napkins and exaggerated protocol.” But this is the sort of message I have to look forward to.

Then I realized it wasn’t from the new feature at all, but an e-mail that had come to my primary inbox. This wasn’t the baleful face of the Google+ loophole. It was just traditional spam.

And maybe I’m wrong. After all, I railed against Gmail’s new tabbed inbox. But now I can’t get by without it. I am a traditional conservative, at least in terms of my deep, visceral, instinctive sense that all change must be wrong. My most time-consuming hobby is standing athwart History yelling, “STOP.” But the instant a change is made, or forced on me, I become a fervent advocate of the new status quo.

Maybe this feature will have its advantages. Time to e-mail all public figures foolhardy enough to have Google+ profiles!

The worst impact it’s had on me, so far, is to remind me again that I am not a celebrity. And that I can handle.

You can turn it off by doing like Slate’s Will Oremus instructs, right here.

If you want to send me erratically spelled missives, come at me on the Twitters.