Google Groups Beta, Group Lists Social Courtesy, or What We Really Don't Want
Over the last few days, I've been getting email from a Google Groups list I have been subscribed on... by someone unknown to me, that I did not agree to or ask to be included in. Dan Gillmor responded to one message yesterday after several came through, asking to be removed, because he didn't know how he got on it, or why, and simply expressed: "geez" in response to the situation. In fact, the group list appears to have started last May, and the first email I have is from August. As of yesterday, when I went to Google Groups to figure out what was going on, I found there were 28 people on the list, though unlike Yahoo groups, once I made a login, I could not find an administrator or a list of participants.
I decided to reply to this Google Groups email list, and the email text I sent is below, explaining what the problems were that I found, stating that I thought it was strange to be put into something without being asked, especially something that, by replying to it, would lead to the public recording of my email address and text, without my agreement or permission in a Usenet list. Not that I care that much because I do blog after all.. but still. This is weird, and not very sociable or considerate. Seems in fact like an excellent way to annoy a bunch of folks.
I would suggest that Google Groups limit participation in groups by requiring a confirmation email-reply from list subscribers, and that it add an appropriate links to the bottom of group email lists.. explaining the privacy implications, the public nature of the group mail, and the support email address and de-subscribe information. All this would seem like pretty basic best practices for any group email tools.
Since I sent that reply email back to this group, I've received several email or otherwise heard from people like danah boyd and Chris Alden telling me they are on the list as well, but they don't know how they were put on it, or how to get off, because there is no unsubscribe link. And I've heard from a number of others.. who are not on the list, but who 'heard' about the email sent from Dan, and me.
This is the original letter I sent out yesterday to the list, after Dan's email, for those who want to see it (it's redundant to the above post):
I have no idea how I ended up on this list either. I've never signed up for Google Groups, until today.. when I coincidentally happened to get a whole lot of email via this group (which I did not subscribe to) and happened to be doing an analysis of group ware tools.. including GG and Yahoo Groups, just now. Interesting introduction to GG.
Looking at the "about groups" section (http://groups-beta.google.com/group/Testing-Google-Groups/about), there have been 19 email since May, when it started (I went back to see that I appear to have been added in August) and there are 28 members. However, once you join GG, the system will not allow you to see who the other members are, unlike Yahoo Groups, which does allow members to see other members and the administrator of the group. So we can't really tell who subscribed us or started this... other than to see the first two messages... by "mer...@gmail.com" and "krucoff" (see this link to find more about the group email for May: http://groups-beta.google.com/group/Testing-Google-Groups/browse_frm/ month/2004-05).
A hint, for people starting groups: don't subscribe people and their email without asking them first. If they don't agree, don't put them into it. It's rude. It's spam unless we agree. Especially since it's publicly searchable as a Usenet group.
Also, if anyone from Google is on this, your system has a serious problem. People can be added to groups without their being asked, or warned, and the email is received from the list with no remove link at bottom, or link to the particular Google Group they have been unwittingly subscribed to, in order to see what is going on to begin with. And for what I'm sure isn't the last problem, the whole thing is viewable live on the web published as a Usenet group. And for those who didn't voluntarily sign up, their email address and content (if they participate in the group) is available whether they agreed to or were aware of this "feature" or not. If they are used to Yahoo Groups, they may well believe, even if they know it's a group email list, that it's private, and you should warn people about this difference.
Posted by Mary Hodder at January 3, 2005 10:55 PM
After reading this post, out of curiousity I went to the Google Groups beta site, and found that I, too, had been made a member of a mystery group. It's called "Groups 2 Test Group," and has 32 members.
My membership was set to "No email. I will read this group on the web.", which is why I didn't know I was subscribed.
The messages all appear to be test messages, so my sense is that these groups were created by Google staff working on the system and testing its capabilities. But you're right, to do that without asking does seem inappropriate.