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I use Pidgin to log into Google Talk every morning and as of Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 my buddy list is full of people from Google+. Did Google announced this change?

As far as I can tell, these new "buddies" are people who are in my Google+ circles and who also have me in circles.

I've found plenty of people talking about this. . .

. . . and in this post I asked a Google employee for more information. . .

. . . but I haven't seen any announcement from Google about this change. Some people in the posts above make reference to some change they agreed to a month ago, and I very well may have clicked something, but I'd be curious to see a post from Google about what I agreed to.

It seems rather brash of Google to alter their users' buddy lists. Again, I may well have agreed to this, I guess. . .


Update: After learning more about the issue and posting an answer, I visited https://plus.google.com to look at my chat settings.

Along the left side, I see "Enable Chat" and when I click it, a dialog pops up with. . .

New! Chat with the people in your circles

You can now chat with the people in your circles (who also have you in their circles). Change which circles you can chat with by choosing Privacy Settings from the chat menu. Learn more

|OK| |Not now|

. . . and this is certainly the dialog I saw before. I don't remember if I ever clicked "OK" or not. Perhaps I clicked "OK" and then later disabled Chat? I'm not sure. Either way, without any use of the Chat feature of Google+ this week, people from my Google+ circles suddenly showed up in my buddy list in Pidgin, as I've indicated.

(Side note: I've always called it Google Talk and it's confusing to me that it's now sometimes called Chat. This issue would be better addressed in a separate question, however.)

I'm trying not to editorialize too much, but I think changing users' buddy list is a big deal. It reminds me of the privacy problems Google Buzz had at launch. I'm ambivalent about the change, however. I chatted briefly with a few of these new "buddies" and it was nice. But I'm still a little alarmed that Google would change my buddy list. I'd like to keep this question focused on the facts, but if you want to editorialize about this with me, please take it to my post about this on Google+.


Update #2: On 2012-02-06 a Google employee posted, "Do know that this sudden opt-in was a known issue that our team quickly learned of and was working on addressing. Thanks for your patience and understanding."

Within a couple days by buddy list was back to normal; the people from Google+ who had been added to my buddy list were gone, as I reported in Google's forum. (I still haven't clicked "Enable chat" in Google+.)

Perhaps everyone's buddy list is back to normal now. Perhaps this question is now too localized, if it only applied to a relatively brief period of time. I do think it helps document an event that makes me somewhat wary of Google's actions, at least. Again, I'll probably enable this feature in the future anyway, but this event seems to have upset a number of people.

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2 Answers 2

Back in November 2011 Google added the ability for you to chat with people in mutual circles, if they also allow it. In the Chat Privacy Settings you could change which circles this applies to, including none of them if you wish. This was announced in posts on Google+ at that time.

The next time you signed in to Google+ after that it also showed a pop-up notice (as shown in this article), with a "Not now" button in case you wanted more time to think about it before it was enabled for your account. I don't know but it is possible that Google finally went ahead and enabled it recently for anyone that put it off previously. Or you may have clicked OK on the pop-up without realizing it.

Regardless of how it got enabled, you can effectively disable this feature altogether by following these steps:

  • go to https://plus.google.com and log in to your Google+ account
  • find the Send a messsage to... box in the left sidebar and click on your name immediately above it
  • click on "Privacy Settings"
  • choose Custom and uncheck any checked circles
  • click Save
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I don't like to Chat with most of the people I know, just two people (truly, I'm afraid of my web cam and microphone, and don't want any surprises). I never chose to "Enable Chat", in Google+, and thankfully, it still isn't enabled for me now. I hope Google just leaves it alone, I'm happy with it the way it is! –  Feral Oink Mar 11 '12 at 3:26
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As another answer kindly points out, http://www.blogworld.com/2011/11/21/new-google-feature-chat-with-people-in-your-circles/ explains that in November 2011, Google+ started showing the following dialog:

"New! Chat with the people in your circles.

You can now chat with the people in your circles (who also have you in their circles). Change which circles you can chat with by choosing Privacy Settings from the chat menu."

|OK| |Not now|

That post links to http://mashable.com/2011/11/21/google-plus-circle-chat/ which links to a Google+ help page entitled "Chat with People in Mutual Circles", which seems to be the definitive article from Google on the matter. That article links to the Google+ Known Issues which has an entry under "Chat" that says "New contacts have been added to my Chat list". It reads:

If you've noticed that your Chat list is longer, it's likely because you're using Chat in Google+. All of the contacts in your Google+ Chat enabled Circles are added to your Chat lists across all Google products (ex. Gmail, iGoogle, orkut).

If you don't want someone to be able to chat with you, you can add them to a circle that's not enabled for Chat.


Update: A Google employee posted, "Do know that this sudden opt-in was a known issue that our team quickly learned of and was working on addressing."

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