Google's Buzz causes privacy concerns

Google's Buzz causes privacy concerns

Journalists - among others - are up in arms about the fact that Google's Buzz service automatically makes your most common contacts public.

Google's next big thing - the Buzz social networking Twitter-a-like - has only been available for use for a couple of days, but already it has fired up a storm of privacy complaints - many from journalists.

Google Buzz offers a way of keeping contacts up to date with your current status, in much the same way as Twitter or Facebook's status updates. Designed to be integrated into Google's existing products - including its GMail webmail service - Buzz was rolled out earlier this week for both desktop and mobile devices.

Sadly for Google, the complains started flowing pretty soon after: in order to quickly populate your list of friends, Buzz automatically follows other Buzz users that you frequently communicate with through Google's other services such as GMail and Google Talk. While this automagically gives you a populated list of people to follow and allows your most common contacts to see your status update, it seems Google missed one important point: your Buzz friends list is public by default.

While the thought of making public a list of the people you talk to most is likely to raise a sweat on the brow of many a cheating spouse, another set of individuals has an even bigger concern: journalists.

As explained over on the Business Insider, journalists often use web-based tools such as GMail and Google Talk to communicate with sources, many of whom wish to remain completely anonymous. By automatically adding common contacts to the Buzz friends list, these sources details are potentially compromised.

The flaw is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Buzz is an opt-in service - both the follower and the followee have to agree to create a "public profile with [their] name and photo" before activating Buzz - but nowhere in the documentation provided on Google's site does it explain that this will also publicise your connections to others.

Google has responded to the concerns of journalists and others with a statement which points users to an explanation of why a profile is required, along with a warning that "the lists of people they follow and people following them will be displayed on their profile" which is linked to from the "create a public profile" dialogue when Buzz is activated for the first time. The company also states that it "[makes] it possible to hide the lists of people [being followed] and people following them from [users'] profiles."

Do you believe that Google's decision to automatically publish your most frequent contacts is a massive privacy concern, or is this what people should expect when they voluntarily sign up to such a service as Buzz? Share your thoughts over in the forums.


Discuss in the forums Reply
faugusztin 11th February 2010, 10:46 Quote
You know, it is "beta" for a reason :D.
B1GBUD 11th February 2010, 10:47 Quote
I logged into my Gmail this morning and disabled my Buzz contacts list, only because I don't want to broadcast private chats with the other half... she can be a filthy minx at times!!
Digi 11th February 2010, 10:57 Quote
Nothing can be the annoying peice of **** that facebook has become. Down with social popularity-contest websites.
Unknownsock 11th February 2010, 11:02 Quote
Beta, and Google don't really go together really.

How long was Gmail in Beta? 5 years?
billysielu 11th February 2010, 11:18 Quote
Buzz gives away too much real-time information about you, very risky.
hexx 11th February 2010, 12:03 Quote
i disabled it, don't like to share my private info with others, mixed contact list - friends and colleagues and plus it's google - recently i've been very concerned about info i share with them
Spiny 11th February 2010, 12:08 Quote
It's actually worse than that. If you make yours private and a friend is following you who's contact list is public, you're email address is still exposed to all & sundry :(
sotu1 11th February 2010, 12:24 Quote
Originally Posted by faugusztin
You know, it is "beta" for a reason :D.

What Beta really means today is a product/service that is in need of refinement. Since the web is ever evolving, many of these services are never 'completed' and always changing.
i7lova 11th February 2010, 15:21 Quote
^^ Get out of here you tool!
proxess 11th February 2010, 15:22 Quote
You can just ignore it...
LucusLoC 11th February 2010, 17:18 Quote
hehe "do no evil"

. . . oh wait. . . .
DarkLord7854 11th February 2010, 19:26 Quote
Originally Posted by billysielu
Buzz gives away too much real-time information about you, very risky.

Yea that's why it's opt-in.

I don't get why people get so butthurt about this sh*t. You can remove yourself from it.

Do it, and quit b*tching, it ain't rocket science, it's a single checkbox and you hit Submit, and there, your stuff's private again.
ZERO <ibis> 11th February 2010, 21:33 Quote
Actually for the google reader you need to go to the google reader site to set your privacy and that was a bit confusing. Also I still can not figure out how I edit my settings after I set it up as I do not see a settings option anywhere...
LucusLoC 11th February 2010, 22:30 Quote

it should be the default to have it hidden. i do not know how many sites have made this mistake in the past, but google has had enough privacy issues brought to their attention that they should know this by now. plus if you make your profile private it should not show it on other people's accounts either. it's common sense things like this that google always seems to miss. google apparently does not care about user privacy, at all.
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