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Massachusetts man goes to jail for automated Google+ invite to ex-girlfriend

Published time: January 10, 2014 20:44
AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm

AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm

Sending an ex-girlfriend an email invitation to join Google+ despite an active restraining order landed a Beverly, Massachusetts man in handcuffs and behind bars.

The problem? Thomas Gagnon, 32, says he never actually sent an email of any sort. Instead, he claims it was Google’s fault.

According to Gagnon, Google automatically sent the invitation without informing him or asking for his consent.

As the Salem News reported, Gagnon was arrested about 90 minutes after his ex-girlfriend notified police. The officers agreed the sent invitation constituted a violation of the restraining order, and while the district court judge acknowledged he wasn’t sure precisely how Google+ processes invitations, he set bail at $500.

While Gagnon argues he did not send the invitation, both he and his attorney, Neil Hourihan, are at a loss when it comes to explaining how the message was transmitted.

When asked about the situation by ABC News, Internet privacy expert and attorney Bradley Shear said it’s possible Gagnon is telling the truth. He cited a Google+ forum topic circa 2011 and 2012 that featured numerous customers complaining about the social network’s automatic invite feature.

"As soon as I add an email to a circle, Google seems to send an email automatically asking that person to join Google Plus,” wrote one user. “Is there any way of turning this off? I don't want Google to send any email on my behalf without my permission. At least I would expect some sort of warning."

"If he didn't send it -- if Google sent it without his permission and he was jailed for it -- Google could be facing major liability," Shear added.

The case shines the spotlight on a feature that has rankled many users, but apparently Google’s intention is to continue down this path. As RT reported on Thursday, the company has moved to establish closer ties between Gmail and Google+, allowing any Google+ user to send emails to Gmail users, regardless of whether or not they know their email address.

The feature even extends to those people who users haven’t included in their circles, though the company emphasized that if you do not respond to an email or add someone to your circles, that individual will no longer be able to continue messaging you.

Still, that hasn’t stopped privacy advocates from voicing concern over the feature, which Google lets users opt out of but makes participation the default setting, especially since it only took one automatic invite to land someone like Gagnon in police custody.

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