Gmail To Auto-Update Google Calendar Events for Biz Users
People who have been using non-Google applications to manage their travel and event plans might find those tasks easier once Google's Gmail begins automatically adding details about those plans to their Calendar apps. Google announced yesterday that it expects to integrate user data from Gmail with its Calendar app over the coming week.
The new integration will take information from Gmail e-mails confirming reservations for flights, hotels, restaurants or ticketed events, and add that by default to users' Calendars. In addition to scheduled times and dates, the Calendar entries will also provide details about flight numbers and check-in times, and will be automatically updated if new e-mails report changes or cancellations.
Available to mobile and desktop Google Apps users on both Android and iOS devices, the new feature will be enabled by default, although users can delete unwanted events from their Calendars or adjust their settings to disable such updates. However, the feature will not be available at all to Google Apps for Government customers.
'Seamless' Travel Planning
"The Internet has made business travel -- booking flights and hotels, reserving restaurant tables, buying event tickets, and more -- infinitely easier," according to a post yesterday on Google's Apps Updates blog. "Adding that information to a calendar, on the other hand, has remained time-consuming and tedious, typically requiring people to copy and paste information from various confirmation e-mails."
Integrating data from Gmail into the Calendar app, will help "lighten that load" for Google Apps users and "make business travel planning even more seamless," the post noted.
The new feature will be rolled out gradually over the next several days, but some users probably won't see a change for three or more days, according to Google. When the feature first becomes available, users going into Google Calendar will see a "What's new" update explaining the change and providing a link to settings for those who want to adjust or disable the feature.
When an event from Gmail is first added to the Calendar, a user will also receive a one-time e-mail notification explaining the feature and settings options.
'Content Extraction' Raises Privacy Concerns
The new feature, of course, is made possible by the fact that Google scans the content of Gmail's incoming and outgoing messages to enable the delivery of targeted ads to users. Keyword-focused advertising revenue helps support the free e-mail service.
Google's "context extraction" technology has raised red flags for privacy advocates such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The Washington, D.C.-based organization said the practice violates the privacy rights of non-Gmail users whose messages to Gmail subscribers are scanned by Google for advertising purposes.
"This is a real problem," Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's president, told us. "In 2011, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups raised similar concerns about Google's entry into the social network space. They opted users into Buzz. Users rightly objected. EPIC asked the FTC to investigate. They did and agreed with us that Google was wrong. But the FTC failed to enforce their legal settlement and Google continues to peer into e-mail."
In addition to raising privacy concerns, the Gmail-Calendar integration also creates a potential competition issue, he said.
Google's access to Gmail content allows the company to "learn more about the travel patterns of Gmail users," he said. "Travel companies that do not run the word's largest e-mail service do not have access to that information. They are at a competitive disadvantage."
According to a May update on Google Plus, Gmail now has more than 900 million users around the world. Google has noted that it does not scan e-mail data of its Apps for Government users to show ads. Last year, it also announced that it had stopped ad-focused Gmail scanning for Apps for Education users, adding, "Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes."