Google Buzz Kill

, Friday, February 12th, 2010

After logging into my gmail account and getting an announcement to check out the new social networking feature Google rolled out, I was eager to find out what all the Buzz was about.  I clicked through to the link and to my surprise I was already following 31 people and 26 people were following me without ever activating a thing.  After poking around, I realized that whether you  like it or not the wealth of information Google knows about you is quickly becoming less and less private.  Before you get behind the wheel, I suggest you read on to understand the consequences of your buzz.

In order to get started with Google Buzz you have to set up a Google profile.  This is done in a simple two click process via a pop-up.  Although not completely evident, by default your Google profile is completely public and displays your first and last names, your photo from gmail, a list of the people you’re following, and a list of the people following you.  Google Buzz automatically follows the people you contact the most often over email and chat (which explains why I had a friend list before I even got started) and by default this list is completely public.  Not only does this mean trouble for anyone g-sleeping with the enemy, but it can be highly undesirable from both a personal and professional standpoint to have the whole world know who your most valuable contacts are.  This note from Google is equally confusing, “if you decide to remove lists of the people you are following and the people following you from your profile, your name (and photo if you include it) may still appear on the profiles of the people you are following and who are following you. ”

So you’ve had enough of Buzz and you click the ‘turn off buzz’ link at the bottom of your gmail.  Phew, gone! Nope, not really.  Although this hides the feature from showing up for you when logged into Google, it does not remove your profile from Buzz itself.   Your automatic following/followee contact list is still out there for the world to see.  The steps to take to remove these lists from your page are fairly hidden (once you find the ‘Edit Profile’, uncheck the box next to ‘Display the list of people I’m following and people following me’).  Even if you follow these steps and ‘turn off buzz’, some information is still logged in Buzz and can be viewed and commented on without your knowledge.  I wasn’t able to track down either a simple or agreed upon way to remove your data complete from Buzz.

The mobile version isn’t any less creepy.   I tried Google Buzz out on my iPhone , which asks you if you want to allow it use your current location.   Click yes, post a buzz and it will be publicly accessible along with your full name, photo, and exact address of where you were at the time of the buzz.  You can view a list of local buzzes by location or via a Google map with pinpoints of the buzzes.  There doesn’t appear to be a way to post a private or anonymous buzz via the mobile version.

Although the idea behind the consolidation of information in Google Buzz is intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing how it stacks up to the competition, I find the lack of a clearly stated privacy policy and opt-in disturbing. Google Buzz automatically publicly buzzes your Google Reader shared items, Picasa Web public albums, and Google Chat status messages.  You also have the option to connect and post buzzes from other sites including Twitter, youtube, and flickr.  Put this altogether and you could easily be sharing your full name, personal photos, email address, contacts, exact physical location, and the content that you read and watch online all to the general public in one easily accessible location without being aware of it.  Now that’s what I call a Google Buzz kill.

UPDATE: Two days after rolling out Buzz, Google has implemented some changes in response to the outcry over privacy concerns related to revealing contacts.  They have added a checkbox in the activation process that gives you the ability to hide your followers/following list and they have included the ability to block anyone who is following you (previously you could not block people that were auto-following you that had not activated a public profile). Check out the gmail blog for more info.  Stay tuned to the Beaconfire Wire for more content related to Google Buzz.

One Response to “Google Buzz Kill”

  1. Give Buzz a chance | Beaconfire Wire Says:

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