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Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
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Google's latest feature creates privacy fears

Google’s bread and butter has been allowing users to search and find almost anything on the Internet.

And with its latest updates to Gmail, the Internet search company’s emailing service launched in 2004, users can search, find and email strangers and people they don't know, according to Google’s Gmail blog.

“Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven't actually exchanged email addresses?” wrote David Nachum, product manager, on the blog. “If you are nodding your head 'yes' and already have a Google+ profile, then you’re in luck, because now it's easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email.”

Your email address is available to those you choose, Google said on the blog. But if you’re a Google+ user, you can send another user an email just like you’d send one to a member of your family, the blog said.

Control settings allows users to show their email address to anyone on Google+, extended circles created on Google’s social media site, regular circles on Google+ and then just no one, the blog said.

“Google's update to Gmail messaging is the latest in a series of moves designed to bring its email service and social network Google+ closer together,” BBC News reported, adding that new Gmail users automatically are enrolled in the social media site unless they opt-out.

Slate.com offered screenshots and directions on how to opt out of the latest feature, which writer Will Oremus said no one was really asking for.

“Google just announced a big change that, as far as I can tell, no one was asking for except perhaps the people who run Google Plus, its failed Facebook clone ubiquitous online identity service,” he wrote.

This recent change to Gmail and its users isn’t going over very well among privacy advocates, according to the Los Angeles Times. And the new feature is like Google Buzz, which was launched in 2010 and made users’ contacts available online to the public — something that caused a stir in the past, the Los Angeles Times said.

The Federal Trade Commission and Google reached a settlement on the Buzz case, which asked Google to ask users for their permission to display their contacts online, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"The FTC needs to determine whether this change to Google’s business practices violates the consent order that resulted from the Buzz investigation," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

Privacy issues have been raised in the past about Google. Just recently, a Massachusetts man was jailed after sending out a Gmail invite to his ex-girlfriend, who had a restraining order against him, ABC News reported. The man charged, though, said he didn’t send anything and that it was Google who sent the invite from him, ABC News said.

Attorney Bradley Shear, an expert on Internet privacy, said to ABC News that it’s possible the accused Massachusetts man is telling the truth. Google+, according to ABC News, can send invitations out to people who aren’t on the social media site if you move them from one group to another, ABC News said. Google will only send this once, ABC News reported

“But once was all it took to land Gagnon in jail,” wrote Alan Farnham for ABC.

There's been a lot of success with Google, though. In October, its stock numbers jumped. And in December, it started taking steps toward making robots.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com Twitter: @hscribner