Google+ Invite Lands Man In Jail

Did Thomas Gagnon violate the terms of a restraining order via computer or did Google's aggressive social network cast him into a circle of hell?

For some, Google+ notifications are nothing more than an annoyance--a pointless disturbance from what many see as a social network "ghost town." But for Thomas Gagnon, an alert apparently coming from his Google+ account was enough to land him in police custody.

Last month, according to a report, prosecutors said Gagnon's former girlfriend received an invitation to join one of his Google+ Circles. She'd recently broken up with Gagnon and had obtained a restraining order against him soon afterward. Upon discovering the unwelcome Google+ invite from her ex-beau online, she went down to the local police station with a print-out of the invitation. Roughly 90 minutes later, police arrested Gagnon for his Google+ activity and was later charged with violating the restraining order barring contact with her.

The only wrinkle? Gagnon's attorney claims his client never sent the request, arguing that he "has no idea how the woman ... got such an invitation" and "suggesting that it might have been sent by a robot," The Salem News reports. It sounds like an almost comical mishap fit for a soap opera, but the interaction is a common one on Google+, where it's often unclear how or when users are actually on the service--and whether they actually count as "users" to begin with.

To boost engagement on the network, Google began leveraging its more popular properties to force (if not surreptitiously slip) Google+ into our daily routines. In November, for example, YouTube, which is owned by Google, implemented a new commenting system that required a Google+ account in order to contribute to the site's discussions. Google+ Circles, which enable users to classify and manage friends in specific groups (coworkers, roommates), has become more and more embedded in Gmail's contacts feature. And even Google Glass auto-uploads all photos taken on the wearable computer to a private Google+ folder.

But it's not just product integration that is at issue--the company is using its other services to arbitrarily increase the user base of Google+. As The Information recently reported, "The Google+ stream is broadly defined. In the past, statistics about active users in the stream included anytime a person clicked on the red Google+ notifications in the top right corner of their screen while they were using Web search, Gmail, or other Google Web services. The person didn’t actually have to visit [the Google+ homepage] plus.google.com to be counted as 'active.'"

That policy has led to confusion over who is actually a member of Google+. Some users have even complained that Google is mining Gmail contacts to send out Google+ notifications. For example, when users register for Gmail, they're automatically welcomed to Google+, too. And by default, when someone joins Google+ and that person is in your Gmail contacts, Google will automatically send you a notification, along with an invitation suggesting that you "add him [or her] to your Circles to stay connected." The same occurs if someone adds you to a Google+ Circle. (Users have the option of adjusting these settings.)

Google has had a history of privacy hiccups. In 2011, it settled with the FTC over charges that the company used deceptive tactics for its rollout of its failed Buzz social network, which automatically enrolled some users into the service through Gmail, even if they weren't interested in joining.

Perhaps something similar happened to Gagnon--an automated Google+ invite accidentally triggered through his Gmail contacts. Perhaps he simply added or moved his ex-girlfriend to, say, an "Old Acquaintances" Circle, which, unbeknownst to him, caused Google to automatically send a notification to her suggesting that she add him to a Circle too.

Or, of course, perhaps he actually did violate the terms of his restraining order. (Multiple requests to Gagnon for comment were not immediately returned; his attorney was also unreachable. A representative for Google declined to comment on the record.)

Either way, Gagnon's experience, while an extreme example, demonstrates the potential consequences of the lack of transparency surrounding Google+. Neil Hourihan, Gagnon’s lawyer, told a Massachusetts judge that the charges were “absolutely unfounded.”

"[He] suggested that unlike Facebook, which requires users to select potential friends, he believes Google+ generates invitations for 'anyone you’ve ever contacted,'" The Salem News reported. "A Salem District Court judge admitted he wasn’t sure exactly how such invitations work on Google’s social media site."

Still, the judge set bail at $500. The case is set to begin in early February.

[Behind Bars: BortN66 via Shutterstock]

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52 Comments

  • Peters Walter

    Am so grateful to Dr Okole for what he has done for me,At first i was thing he was a scam and also thinking if i was doing the right,But when i decided to contact him i told him my problem he laughed and told me that everything will be okay within 48hours,So i decided to give it a try in which i contacted him he told me that i should remove all taught from my mind and be happy,Really on the second day i just got a cal from someone.The person was weeping then i decided to ask who was i speaking to then he called his name Perry i was shocked i asked him what happened he said he is really sorry for what he has done to me for the past 3years for leaving me alone.That i should please forgive him that he will make it up with me.So then i said let him come over which he did as he was coming he got me a new car and also said i should have access to his account top prove to me that he will never leave me for anything now we are bought together. if you need his help DROKOLESOLUTIONTEMPLE@GMAIL.C

  • Peters Walter

    Am so grateful to Dr Okole for what he has done for me,At first i was thing he was a scam and also thinking if i was doing the right,But when i decided to contact him i told him my problem he laughed and told me that everything will be okay within 48hours,So i decided to give it a try in which i contacted him he told me that i should remove all taught from my mind and be happy,Really on the second day i just got a cal from someone.The person was weeping then i decided to ask who was i speaking to then he called his name Perry i was shocked i asked him what happened he said he is really sorry for what he has done to me for the past 3years for leaving me alone.That i should please forgive him that he will make it up with me.So then i said let him come over which he did as he was coming he got me a new car and also said i should have access to his account top prove to me that he will never leave me for anything now we are bought together. if you need his help you can contact him via his E

  • Peters Walter

    Am so grateful to Dr Okole for what he has done for me,At first i was thing he was a scam and also thinking if i was doing the right,But when i decided to contact him i told him my problem he laughed and told me that everything will be okay within 48hours,So i decided to give it a try in which i contacted him he told me that i should remove all taught from my mind and be happy,Really on the second day i just got a cal from someone.The person was weeping then i decided to ask who was i speaking to then he called his name Perry i was shocked i asked him what happened he said he is really sorry for what he has done to me for the past 3years for leaving me alone.That i should please forgive him that he will make it up with me.So then i said let him come over which he did as he was coming he got me a new car and also said i should have access to his account top prove to me that he will never leave me for anything now we are bought together. if you need his help you can contact him via his E

  • If this is ignorance of the law, it is ignorance by the police, not by this guy. An invitation to add someone to your Google+ circles is equivalent of getting friend suggestions in Facebook. More than likely Google used her Gmail contacts to suggest people to add to her Google+ circles, which if they were previously dating would likely include her ex. It seems like a totally reasonable thing for Google to do, use your Google email to suggest people you know. I really don't see anything remotely illegal here, the ability to use your data to promote other Google products is laid out clearly in the terms of service. Everyone using Gmail or any Google service acknowledged that they read and accepted them. People have no reason to complain about anything Google does that is in the terms of service. If you do not like the terms, you are free to decline them and find a better product. Just because you were too lazy to read does not mean you get to pick and choose the features you like

  • I like the way you felt the need to squeeze in 7 paragraphs of Google+ bashing before you got to the meat of the article. Easy to label Google+ as a ghost town when you don't use it. Check out some of the photographs communities, they are exceptional.

  • Melvin Frohike

    Stupid Google + auto signing people up that you've ever contacted. I went through and manually disabled Google +, and it keeps trying me to enable it and add everyone I've ever emailed again, including random businesses I've had to correspond with.

  • I have been a google +user since its' inception...If you ever conversed with anyone by E mail, facebook, looked up someone on Google or if you are connected with anyone else who has, you will be sent an invite...This guy is getting railroaded...I hope his X gets sued for false arrest : ) !

  • Teri Cross Chetwood

    I don't think it's her fault. She freaked. As for him, I don't think it's HIS fault, either. This is because no one reads the fine print, and companies like Google makes it easy to miss something when you click a button. Google did nothing illegal, just sneaky.

    Google has been trying to get us all to use their weak Facebook imitation, Google+, for years, so they make it almost impossible not to. Should be no harm, no foul on this one.

  • Jane Smith

    You say "should be no harm, no foul" but in this case SOMEBODY actually SHOULD BE made to pay!

    We're talking about jail time here, and someone's potential future missed opportunities due to the record created from the jail time as well. Not to mention that it's time in his life he won't ever get back.

    If he actually sent and tried to contact her, then it's he who needs to pay.

    If he didn't and Google's system automatically sent this, then it's Google who should be made to pay . . . because this guy is sitting in jail based on something he didn't do.

    It's guilty before proven innocent, something Google should realize isn't supposed to happen in the US.

  • Jane Smith

    If it's "ignorance of the law is not an excuse" then it's Google's ignorance that's on display here!

    Yet nobody at Google is cooling their heels in jail.

    Besides, the guy isn't ignorant here, he knew he wasn't supposed to contact her. It's the fact that he says he DIDN'T contact her here. A third party (Google) has been accused of taking it upon themselves and making an assumption, and we all know what happens when people assume.

  • Matthew Ardill

    This isn't ignorance of the law, he has a google + and gmail account that went through his message history (probably from when they were dating) and invited people. It's done that to me too, it's a screwed up system. This is more akin to being framed than ignorance of the law.

  • Iam Danceswithdachshunds

    what law? it's a court order and it applies to what HE does not what others may or may not do on his behalf. Is the man's sister named on the RO too? If not she can send an email to her brother's ex - and so can Google.

  • Matt Brennan

    This isn't ignorance of the law. It's... imagine someone stole your gun and killed someone. This isn't "I didn't know killing someone was illegal", it's "I didn't know my gun was used to kill someone".

  • Tripp Snuggs

    I somehow got signed up for google+. I've had a google account forever, but I never opted into Google+, and then one day I got a message that someone who was already on Google + had been "added to my circle". Creepy.