Just three days after Google launched its answer to Facebook and Twitter, the search giant announced changes in Google Buzz to address some privacy concerns.
The option to share Gmail information with other users is still the default setting, but the box to uncheck for more privacy has now been added more prominently to the Google profile that users must have to use the service. If they don't uncheck, anyone who searches a user's name or e-mail can have access to the user's most frequent contacts.
In another change, Buzzers who show up in the list of followers now have an easy "block" button next to their names. And in the third modification, only those who have created a public profile will appear on a user's list of followers. Previously, the service listed public profiles as well as previous Gmail contacts who may later create a public profile.
Unchanged is the fact that Gmail users are essentially opted into the service without consent. To completely opt out of Buzz, Gmail users must delete their Google profile, block all the followers they have picked up, and then click on the "turn off Buzz" link at the bottom of the Gmail in-box.
"I think they addressed some, but not all of the problems," said Ryan Calo, an expert in Internet privacy at Stanford University. "I'm concerned about formerly private things becoming public without the user understanding that your Google Chat status will be available, where it was not before."
The third largest e-mail service in the United States, Gmail has an estimated 143 million users. Those who also utilize Google Reader, which shares web sites, and Picassa, which shares photo albums, will find that items they have marked public are automatically posted as part of their news feed. Users' chat statuses are also automatically linked so changes on Buzz appear as updates on chat.
Buzzers can also file status updates by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Than 200 Posts Per Minute
In a post on the official Gmail blog announcing the changes, Todd Jackson, product manager for Gmail and Buzz, said that in the first two days of Buzz, "tens of millions of people have checked Buzz out, creating over 9 million posts and comments. Plus, we're seeing over 200 posts per minute from mobile phones around the world."
But Jackson acknowledged that "there's been concern from some people who thought their contacts were being made public without their knowledge (in particular the lists of people they follow, and the people following them). In addition, others felt they had too little control over who could follow them and were upset that they lacked the ability to block people who didn't yet have public profiles from following them."
Calo praised Google for its quick response to customer concerns. "Its an instant recall," he said.
While he was glad to see the Picassa and Reader feeds will only affect those who have open privacy settings on those sites, he added that the strictest level of transparency is called for going forward.
"The sheer complexity of the relationships between Buzz and other Google products increases the need for Google to make their privacy settings accessible and easy to use."
Posted: 2010-02-16 @ 7:51am PT
The weasel language in the apology is telling. People "thought" and "felt" that private information was being made public, says the Google rep. That is not a subjective impression people had--that is exactly what Google did, without adequate notification. I'm not convinced that Google's people understand the magnitude of what they've done. They have lost the trust of many users, myself included.
Posted: 2010-02-13 @ 9:51am PT
Google Buzz is better suited than FB or Twitter for official corporate or government communications -- such as a product recall or county emergency response. For such an application, the answer to the privacy issue is for the enterprise PR department to open a dedicated gmail account and proclaim that all communications through it (buzz, e-mail) are open public records.