Can Google get Buzz privacy right?

Can Google get Buzz privacy right?

Summary: Google is reworking its privacy settings again for the oft-maligned Buzz social media/email aggregation tool. Primarily, the company is asking Buzz users to review their settings, who they're following, who is following them, and who sees public versus private Buzz posts.

TOPICS: Security, Google, Legal

Google is reworking its privacy settings again for the oft-maligned Buzz social media/email aggregation tool. Primarily, the company is asking Buzz users to review their settings, who they're following, who is following them, and who sees public versus private Buzz posts. I actually like Buzz, but don't work in an environment where a lot of people are communicating in a more real-time social way. Email remains king at my day job. However, I have to wonder if Buzz was damaged beyond repair by its ill-fated launch.

For any of you not familiar with Google Buzz, the company provides a handy YouTube primer:

More interesting than the video, though, is the top-rated comment on the YouTube clip (courtesy of user mcgrewrich):

When I signed up for gmail I was trying to set up a PRIVATE EMAIL ACCOUNT not join some social network where everyone can see who I email the most. This Google Buzz creeps me out, seriously. MySpace and Facebook are social networking sites that you login to and you can CONTROL privacy settings. I am sure Google Buzz is useful for oppressive regimes to identify dissidents. When did you forget the slogan "Don't be evil"? I still use gmail and YouTube but I am NOT going to enable Buzz. Sorry.

Ouch. Sure, this is just one comment, but a general theme of negativity ran through many of the others. One in particular stood out:

Too bad you guys released this thing publicly without ironing out some privacy issues first. What happened to the traditional alpha/beta release cycle?

So now users hit Buzz and are asked to review settings in a fairly friendly way (far better than Facebook's last privacy settings switch, but still very easy to just hit the "Looks OK" button) and then we're back to normal. I guess.

Maybe it's just that Buzz is an application looking for an audience. Google employees, for example, use it internally all the time and it's an effective business tool. SocialWok tapped the Buzz API to enhance their Apps-centered approach to business collaboration and social networking with great success. And yet people still just log in to Facebook.

Google might just be ahead of their time here, but I'm inclined to think that the Buzz brand was so tainted by its launch that a few tweaks here and there won't be enough to revolutionize the way we communicate or share; it won't be enough to really unify our communication streams and still doesn't really have the horsepower to do that anyway.

Time for something new, Google...base it on Buzz and Wave technologies if you like, but I don't see Buzz taking off anytime soon.

Topics: Security, Google, Legal

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Google is ahead of its time AND can't market...

    Well maybe not buzz so much. But Wave is definitely ahead
    of its time. But they just don't know how market it and
    get people over from email once they have it cleaned up.
    I certainly hope they do though. Wave is 1000 times
    better than using email and I'm just counting the days
    when it replaces the email paradigm.
  • RE: Can Google get Buzz privacy right?

    Yahoo! had Buzz before Google, and no one complained how they did it. Perhaps Yahoo! got it right and Google should follow.
  • Google should pursue other markets

    That don't involve further inundating their users' privacy.
    They already have way too much information about the
    average user. More and more people and businesses are
    entrusting Google with not only their search histories, but
    also their email, their blogs, what news they're interested
    in, and all their documents and spreadsheets. That's an
    awful lot of information to have about a single person. For
    most people, that's more personal information than any
    other business or government entity in history has had
    about them. I don't know about you, but I don't trust any
    company with that much information about me, even "We're
    not evil like Microsoft, just trust us" Google.
    • Yes, they should

      pursue other markets - if they can make money there. On the other hand, I don't give two whoops what information they have about me. They can't hurt me.
  • What a wonderful Google Apps? Google Latitude Google Ocean = ...

    What a wonderful Google Apps? Google Latitude + Google Ocean = Real-time Fishing LBS Contents

    Have you heard about Real-time Fishing LBS Contents? We have proposed this Service Model to Google over 4 years ago. Real-time Fishing LBS Contents is Location Based Service for IPTV, WiMAX, Mobile. This Service Model was created in 2002 by I&IWorld. I&IWorld's located in South Korea. As you know, there're many people enjoy fishing in the world(about 5 hundred million). I&IWorld's Real-time Fishing LBS Contents is like these.

    *Main Functions*
    1.The underwater topography and 3D views with fishing spots
    2.Real-time fishing points tracing by GPS and angling direction guide
    3.Service the real-time fishing condition about fishing place(weather, water temp, depth etc)
    4.Angler Social network(such as Second Life)

    Everyone knows that Google motto is, 'Don't be evil.' Is it all right? Visit, and type 'Real-time Fishing LBS Contents'. Search If you need more information, please send your email address.
  • I'm sorry

    But "Google" and "Privacy" do not go together. Not one bit.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Problem is NOT Google!

    The web in general is NOT private folks. Please get a clue. Google only compiles what is already public and puts it into one place. How is that invading your privacy when you've already made things public?
    • Have you actually...

      used Buzz?

      If I am using Google for business, I don't want everybody who sees my Buzz feed automatically seeing my complete customer list. Likewise, I probably don't want my custards to see all of my Buzz posts.

      What if you have been communicating with a doctor who specialises in venereal disease and he uses GMail and all of a sudden, your name pops up under his contacts in Buzz?

      Or you are thinking of changing jobs and your employer sees that you are also communicating with one of their competitors?

      Email is, generally, private. Twitter and Buzz are more open, Facebook falls somewhere in the middle. Buzz should hold itself totally separate from GMail, that was the initial problem with Buzz.

      The idea of Buzz is good, but it was poorly implemented. Luckily I had never sent or received a single email with my GMail account, so I didn't really have any problems with Buzz, when it started.
    • That isn't true

      If someone sets up a Gmail account as a means to communicate privately with someone (e.g. a divorce lawyer, new girlfriend, old flame), that doesn't mean they want that association to show up on a Google search of their name. That's what Buzz did, and if the timing had been a little bit different (and me less paranoid) it could have been VERY embarrassing to me personally.

  • RE: Can Google get Buzz privacy right?

    I spent the days following the ill-fated launch trying
    to tell Google (through direct comments on Todd
    Jackson's Buzz feed, among other mechanisms) the exact
    same thing. Their conceptual model for the product was
    just not in sync with the public, and they were doing
    a terribly poor job both of actually protecting
    privacy and of explaining to potential customers what
    is was and how it was supposed to work. Integrating it
    so tightly into Gmail was a major design flaw which
    they still haven't really acknowledged.

    This was one of the first times they ever released a
    new service without an extensive beta period open to a
    broad selection of the public. Had they followed their
    traditional practice of opening it up first to select
    Gmail users, gradually making it more and more
    available, they could have slowly educated their
    customers about the project, gotten the same feedback
    they got on the flaws (without the accompanying really
    bad publicity), and retooled before final launch. Then
    they could have had a splashy official launch,
    garnered rave reviews, and been on solid ground for
    moving forward.

    Instead, they departed from their traditional model
    and released an untested, seriously flawed service on
    people who had no clue what the service was for and
    had never been persuaded why they needed it. Google
    should have taken responsibility for the fundamental
    flaws (not the serious but ultimately technical flaws
    like how the splash screens did or did not notify
    folks what they were choosing). They could easily have
    said "hey, we goofed. We tried a new way of releasing
    a product, and it didn't work right, so we're going to
    pull it back and retool it until we get it right."

    Doing so would have stopped the complaints quite
    promptly, rather than leaving them to fester as
    complaining users felt ignored. It also would have
    given them a second bite at garnering good publicity
    with the relaunch. They would have been the company
    which admits their mistakes and comes back stronger

    That re-launch would even have attracted people like
    me, who were very dissatisfied by the initial privacy
    violations, to take a second look and reconsider my
    initial opposition. But dripping out one fix after
    another? They're very unlikely to ever regain my
    attention sufficiently to entice me to go check it out

    They really should pull it, retool, and re-release.
    Even at this late date, it would do them more good
    than harm. It can hardly make the Buzz service LESS
    • Get a Life! haha.... You prolly don't even have Gmail! ;)

      I suppose Yahoo spamming your friends list w/ bogus MSN
      users is OK by you. Then what about Facebook's plans to
      bring out integrated Email in a system that not only
      shares your info with your friends, but with corporate
      and government entities keen on trying to own YOU and
      your information!

      None of you HATERS (and that's all you are), will be
      protesting that, will you? ;)

      btw.. when you're Good, everyone wants a piece of your
      hide. When your Great, then starts the HATE and foaming
      at the mouth. Tell me this; has any other corporate
      entity strived to warn those Chinese dissidents of
      possible information compromise so quickly? NO! ...they're
      still all sitting back in their dark little holes in fear of
      losing Chinese Yuan!

      Google has been the only Corporation willing to step up
      and defy the Chinese Government directly. Whereas the
      rest, would gladly sell you out to the highest bidder in
      a heartbeat!

      Google ultimately stands for "Got Scruples? Google
      Does", and goes where others fear to tread! ...that's
      innovation without fear of losing a buck and keeping your
      integrity intact!
      • A Life

        Do you have any idea what you are saying? Can you back ANYTHING you say up with some evidence?
  • Why Buzz failed for me...

    Buzz was a "metoo" done poorly during a "trust me"
    crisis... emphasized by a "Want it? [No thanks] Ok, you
    got it anyway." introduction.

    [...which is to say, when first presented and I declined, I
    still had to "turn Buzz off" to get rid of it...]

    The Gorg has done far too much play with opting-out.
    Not everyone wants to supersize. More is not better.
  • Who cares?

    Buzz is just plain irrelevant for most people.
  • RE: Can Google get Buzz privacy right?

    I finally got rid of my buzz account. I had in my following so called Unidentified Users. I couldn't even block them. No privacy, whatsoever.
  • Buzz is Great and Google is Still Awesome!

    I don't see any one of my friends killing their gmail
    accounts so what's the problem. They are still gaining
    like crazy on Hotmail and YahooMail. So I really don't see
    the problem. Their email product is far superior offering
    premium services these others don't have or charge for.

    On top of that no web email service has anything like
    Google Phone and myriad of services Google has
    available for FREE. Integrated Search, YouTube, Weather
    (no ads), Fully Customizable Web Page (w/o added costs or
    ads), Web Storage w/sharing, an amazing Photo Editor,
    interactive social networking (yes Buzz), Google Maps
    (best on web) and a whole slew of other features, that if
    you did not want to use Buzz (for some stupid arse
    reason), you'd still be Googling in style!

    Face it!!! ....there is no other Search Engine anywhere in
    the World that can hold a candle to it! .....Bing offering
    cash to switch has only cost them, taken away users from
    Yahoo and you're still using the same craptastic search
    engine with padded, stored results. Live Search? Right!
    haha..... perhaps Google is the only company that has the
    humongous network of crawlers to do that for real! ;)

    Alas.... relent, quit your asinine ignorance and get your
    Buzz on! :D's right there in front of your face
    with your Gmail! haha (and you do have a chose)
  • RE: Can Google get Buzz privacy right?

    Google views data as an asset. The distinction between their data and our data is a fuzzy, dotted line at best.

    Data is powerful. Eventually, by accident or design, Google will heinously abuse our data.

    Pretty clearly, the Buzz and China matters demonstrate that Google does not and will not honor boundaries.

    I've been considering rebuilding my mail server to avoid these issues.