Google's Buzz application has unleashed editorials and flame wars around the U.S amid privacy concerns. At least it picked a name appropriate for the current backlash. Google however may wind up regretting how it launched Buzz, with significant legal and ethical concerns on the horizon. Google also faces severe criticism on how it deals with customer privacy that may tarnish its image that will require considerable time to repair.
The U.S. government may have to act. As the product launch unfolded, the buzz turned ugly and very quickly. Google may have few if any options but get hung out to dry and wind up being monitored with big brother oversight over how it manages privacy processes and practices.
To be fair, Google no doubt figured this is a cool collaboration and sharing tool like Twitter. Hundreds of applications have been developed for cross threading information from one platform to Twitter and Buzz wants makes it easy to socialize in the same manner. Google's approach seemed straight forward and designed it so users will find it easy to post information and then push it out to a users contact list. Any news, updates, and information and applications as the user wanted share was embedded with Buzz in the Gmail application. But just like Facebook, it left far too many default settings open without sufficient information, warnings and instructions on what impacts that had on its user and his or her associated contacts. Google's vetting process appeared rushed in order to announce the product and it's obvious that Google's product management didn't head lessons learned by the boys in blue across the street. Ironically Google stressed in its product launch, Buzz offer private or public settings on what it shares. Clearly it didn't do enough to prepare its Gmail customers how it is initially configured. During the product launch the product team stressed that they reviewed and thoroughly analyzed privacy issues. So what has gone wrong?
Google now faces valid public safety concerns while not intentional, simply cannot be ignored. Google has been quick to make changes and fixes to the Buzz product but not all are satisfied. No doubt more than a few lawsuits will be filed over the coming weeks.
The U.S. Federal government may have no choice but begin an investigation on Google's process and policies concerning privacy and how it manages data sharing. Several agencies are likely to be involved including the Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It will need to start with preliminary investigations and requests for information based on complaints submitted to each agency and upon review, likely snowball into full scale Congressional Hearings and legal proceedings. From there it will spread to Canada, Europe and beyond.
Google's management may wind up turning down the volume on this product and burying it before private, government and Congressional litigation and oversight sting it.
Update: Feb. 13 2010: Google does about face - apologizes, changes default settings and clarifies how it can link to your friends at your option.