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The Google Buzz Backlash February 12, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Google Buzz has been a topic of excitement this week for anyone interested in watching the line between social media and e-mail communications blur. But in the past day or so, as the novelty has evolved into practicality, a serious privacy matter has come to the forefront.

It annoyed me, the first time I logged into my rarely used Gmail account this week, that I was told I automatically have Buzz followers. For one thing, I didn’t sign up for Buzz; for another, the Gmail account I have is used exclusively for my job-hunting activities, which means that automatically, the recruiters and hiring managers I’ve been in contact with over the past few months are, suddenly and without my permission, my Buzz “friends.” Not a big deal, I thought, since I don’t plan, for the moment, to use Buzz to post my status updates or keep in touch with friends.

Wrong. It turns out it is a very big deal.

On Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, users must sign up, create an account, and deliberately connect with others. I’ve not been the only one bothered by Google’s presumption that everyone I e-mail is a social networking friend, or that I even want to be linked to Buzz.

Many people have complained that they have too little control over who follows them and that its blocking controls are inadequate. Google’s auto-following and public listing can expose personal connections that some users would consider private; or as in my case, turn even the most casual e-mail contacts into Buzz “friends.” Most alarming is the concern that some have that even their addresses and contact information, courtesy of Google Earth and Google Maps, may now be available to anyone who has their e-mail address.

What does this mean for crime victims, journalists, government sources, whistleblowers, employees, attorneys? It’s not Big Brother that has your information now: EVERYONE has access to it.

Today, Google acknowledged the outcry over privacy complaints and made changes to the social networking tool. A Google spokesman naively said in a Google blog post that Buzz is still young and there are many improvements on the way.

Excuse me? Why on earth would Google prematurely throw the switch on Buzz when the tool actually poses a safety concern for some users in its current form? Having worked for Yahoo! once upon a time, I know Google has an army of attorneys that must have counseled its execs on liability and privacy matters. And common sense tells you that any program should be opt-in. Google: FAIL.

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