Google Buzz: Privacy concerns grab gov't attention, hint at desperation

Google is under fire over privacy concerns. Was this a push to play catch up with other social networks?
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Google Buzz continues to draw headlines - and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Up in Canada, public concerns over privacy in Google Buzz has grabbed the attention of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. At issue is the way Google used Gmail contact information to kickstart Buzz by placing contacts into a user's network. Yesterday, the agency confirmed that it is looking into Buzz and could possibly have more to say about it as early as today, according to a CBC News report.

Back in the states, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint (PDF) with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that Buzz violates consumer protection law. That group is calling for more changes to the service, including greater control over the service's settings.

I have to agree that the idea of people in my Gmail contacts list being automatically linked to my Google Buzz account was unsettling, especially because many people in that list aren't necessarily people I would be connected to in either a social or professional collaboration setting.

It's one thing to ask for permission to tap into my Gmail contacts list for the sake of suggesting other potential Buzz buddies, the same way Facebook, MySpace and Twitter started. The thing Google seems to have forgotten is that no one creates an instant social network - not in real life and not in an online world. My networks of Facebook friends and Twitter followers wasn't in placer from Day One. It took months. even years, to build those networks. to make those connections and to start sharing.

Quite frankly, there's a hint of desperation in Google's decision to thrust us into an instant social network. Is the company so late to the game, so far behind the others, that it has to try to close that gap quickly, without allowing the time for those networks to grow virally on their own?

Google Buzz has a lot of problems and things don't seem to be getting better. But Google certainly hasn't given up on Buzz. Statements issued today, in response to the complaint about the FTC matter, suggest that more improvements are coming. After all, Google said at Buzz's unveiling that Buzz was a work-in-progress and that it wanted some feedback so it could make improvements.

Just goes to show that you have to be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

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