Google Buzz Already Raising Privacy Concerns

Simon Fodden first spoke about the new Google Buzz here on Slaw last week. He didn’t have access yet at the time (do you now, Simon?).

First impressions

I was surprised to see it appear unannounced in my Gmail box a few days ago as an option on the left side of my mailbox. When I clicked on it, I was even more surprised to see I had followers and people I followed already set up (those people I was connected with who also have Gmail accounts). I was already privy to a number of conversations in progress. My first impression is that it is a lot like FriendFeed or the news feed on Facebook, where someone posts a comment or photos or links and others can post comments. I am not yet sure how I am going to use this in a way that differentiates it from all the other streams of information I push out: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and probably a few more I have forgotten about. And I’m really not sure how I am going to use this new tool.

Privacy concerns

Already concerns about privacy are surfacing. This goes beyond the usual “all this connectivity is eating at my privacy” arguments. It appears that Google has made a few miscalculations that do jeopardize the privacy of many of us on Gmail, even if we have not clicked on that Google Buzz icon.

Maggie Shiels on her dot.Maggie blog at the BBC News (Feb. 15/10) points out some of these possible gaffes:

  • automatically following all of your Gmail contacts (this has now been replaced with automated suggested followers – see GMail Blog post from Feb. 13/10)
  • automatically connecting content from other websites such as photos from Picasa and links from Google Reader (albeit they are showing only photos or links that have been designated as public)

The guys at DyscultureD podcast also identified some additional concerns in Episode 70 (Feb. 15/10) also point out:

  • those of us with Google accounts also have public Google Profiles. All of our Google Buzz followers (who happen to be contacts in our previously private Gmail accounts) now are publicly visible on the profiles (see my screen capture below).
  • if you have an Android phone, Google Buzz publishes your location without your consent.

I also noticed, when checking out my Google Profile, that my latest Buzz message is posted automatically as well. While I have designated this as a “public” buzz (private Buzzes do not seem available yet), I expected it just to go to my followers and their followers. I didn’t expect it actually posted on a public website. And as you can see at the top of my Google Profile, I am eligible to have my Profile “featured” in Google search results. As far as I can see, this will be automated and I am not given a choice. Oh joy, my information becomes even more publicly visible without my consent.

Overall, Google has left our information automatically open, and it is up to us to make things more private in the settings. Shades of Facebook, anyone?

Turning Google Buzz off

And over on CNET, Jessica Dolcourt in Buzz Off: Disabling Google Buzz (Feb. 11/10) has given a thorough “how to” showing how to turn off Google Buzz. Not as clear as it seems: even if you “turn off Buzz” (one of the options) you still leave much of this disconcerting information public. She gives additional information on how to make it truly private.


  1. It certainly will be interesting to watch Buzz grow :-)
    I wonder what changes they already have in the pipeline!

    Here is a nice model on how to use Google Buzz that you may find interesting… it has some cool tips & tricks



  2. Well, I’ve got it, Connie. And without having done anything, as you point out, you and I are following each other.

    My feeling is that this is not ready for prime time. When Twitter launched I was puzzled as to what to do with it (now I know: use it as a broadcast medium — if you’ve got something to tell). With Buzz I’m not so much puzzled as to its point as to the mechanics: it is not user-friendly — or simple — or well integrated with other Google features. I suppose we’re in for an extended period of layering, where “medium” after “medium” is offered to us, each lying uncomfortably over, beneath or beside its competitors — a sort of Betamax and VHS situation gone mad — until eventually the public response sorts things out.

    Google, much as I’m fond of it (so far as you can be fond of a giant), needs badly to take some lessons from Apple: don’t let it out of the shop unless the UI and every aspect of its functioning is clear and as intuitive as possible.

  3. I’m generally quite a fan of Google’s increasingly large array of toys. I use Maps, Docs, Gmail, Calendar, and Picasa on a regular basis, all synced to the iPhone which is glued to my hand.

    But lately the shine seems to have come off Google’s “everything is in beta” way of doing things that worked so well in the past. I’ve run into trouble wherever I need to get things to work together, even something as basic as trying to get Chat or Latitude to work properly with my Gmail contacts, or share a Picasa album via Gmail. It seems increasingly that the Google Account binding everything together is the weak link in the chain, becoming more and more frustrating to understand or manage. For something as intrusive as Buzz to show up uninvited and start broadcasting my information is a misstep I would not have expected from Google a year ago.

  4. We are talking about a new application (still in beta) that is so new how it is meant to be used is still not known. As well, even with the video explaining how to use it, some of these additional implications were not apparent, and were found by people testing it out.

    Those of us who are early adopters put ourselves forward to find just such concerns out and help make others aware. So, yes, consumers should read reviews to be aware of what it does, but it does take others to actually write those reviews. Which, in this case, is a bit of what I am trying to do.