Posts Tagged ‘Google Buzz’

Privacy Group Harshes Google’s Buzz

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

It would appear that privacy watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center took a bit of offense with Google creating “circles of friends” via the addition of the “Buzz” feature in their Gmail services… Ya know, without anyone’s permission.

At least that’s what EPIC is claiming. And based on the way the feature worked when it launched last week, I have a hard time disagreeing. Here’s how it works: Buzz is essentially Google’s attempt at a new social networking tool. It creates “circles of friends” based on your most frequently used contacts in Gmail. Don’t see the problem? BAM! Your mother and the girl/guy you’re seeing that you haven’t quite told moms about yet in the same “circle of friends”. Oops.

The privacy group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission yesterday claiming Buzz violates federal consumer protection law. These charges have been challenged by Google after it made changes to the way Buzz works, essentially making mere suggestions to users rather than throwing them into groups automatically, but not before Google had already been blasted by users and other groups for the initial problem.

The issue here is that we’re already to the point of damage done, the infamous leap before looking. It was, in theory, a good idea for those who may want their social networking a bit more automated but it bordered on negligent by providing personal information to individuals whom users may not have wished to have that information.

The changes made would appear to have calmed some fears on the part of the users but it does raise the question of what checks and balances are in place to prevent future abuse from occurring. While the Buzz tool now merely suggests new “friends”, the ability to use Gmail without having Buzz “looking over your shoulder”, as it were, is not an option. If you use Gmail, you are using Buzz.

And this is EPIC’s argument, that the Buzz feature should allow users to choose to “opt in” before it becomes active or at least offer users the opportunity to opt out before being added to a social network of any kind. And again I would agree.

While it falls in the purview of the user to protect their data when sending and receiving emails, how are they allowed to do the same when their data is made available to a database that is intended to match people based solely on how often they communicate with one another.

I see EPIC’s point and tend to agree with it. I see what Google was attempting to do and applaud them for their enthusiasm but was there no focus group or some form of user testing to see where the public stood on having their private information made available to other users, regardless of how often they were in contact with one another?

If the reverse had been done, a social networking site providing email addresses to people we contacted through their site, the uproar would perhaps be considerably more. It would not only be irresponsible but unethical. In many cases, people prefer to receive messages from people they’ve met on social networking sites through said sites, not through their personal email addresses. That’s what those alerts are for, after all.

Let’s just hope nobody gets any bright ideas…


Gritskrieg – End of Line