Google's Buzz causes privacy concerns

February 11, 2010 | 10:15

Tags: #buzz #google-buzz #google-privacy #microblogging #privacy

Companies: #facebook #google #twitter

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.
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