Google tweaks its use of contacts in Gmail's address book

Responding to user complaints over clutter in its address books, Google said it would partition the contacts it automatically adds to its users lists, into a separate area.

The feature in Google's Gmail Web pages that allows users to quickly enter e-mail addresses by only typing in the first few characters, is perceived to be helpful by some. However, typically when a user adds the address to enable auto-completion, it also adds a entry to the main address book.

For those who use their Gmail accounts to e-mail many people, this could result in a quite unwieldy address book, especially when actually searching for legitimate contacts. Thus, Google has decided to partition these automatic contacts.

"We wanted to preserve [the] benefit [of auto-completion] while giving you the ability to have a clean, uncluttered contact list, and we've come up with a solution that's rolling out this week," Google contacts project manager engineer Benjamin Grol said.

Now by default, contacts shown will be called "My Contacts," and will only include names the user has directly entered into the system. A separate section called "Suggested Contacts" will be used to hold those that had been auto-created in the previous version.

There are ways that a auto-created contact could still make it onto the main contact section. If Gmail detects you are e-mailing an non-entered contact frequently (more than five times), it will automatically add the contact into your main list, Google said. However, if the user wants to completely turn off the automatic addition of contacts, she can do so.

Other major free e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo Mail offer AutoComplete functionality. Yahoo offers the feature, but only for contacts that are currently in the user's address book. Hotmail works in a similar manner.

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb pointed out that Thursday's changes seemed to do little to eliminate concerns that Google is doing things with user's contacts that users are not informed about.

For example, the contacts are used in Google Reader to display what your "friends" are reading in the application. While a user can opt-out of having his or her information shared, Kirkpatrick argued that the company is not clear on exactly what it's doing.

"We'd appreciate it if Google wasn't all loosey-goosey with our contacts. Who knows. Maybe Gmail, and all the Google Apps, are an even better example than Twitter of a service we'll put up with no end of crap from," he wrote.

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