What’s That Buzz?

By now, most of you have probably heard about the backlash against Google regarding some of the pre-sets on their new Buzz social networking push. What sounded like a little fun turned out to be a nightmare of privacy violations and sharing of information without permission.

What concerns me is that no one at Google had any idea that people might be upset by their information going public in such a broad and unfettered way. I had not even looked at Buzz, although there was a little icon on my left-hand links on gmail page. But on Friday I saw a forwarded post from a friend of mine on Facebook pointing out some pretty glaring privacy breaches with the new Buzz, and I immediately went over there and took a look at that icon.

I was completely appalled. I was automatically linked to the last six or seven people I had emailed from my gmail account. I have no idea what I was seeing, in honesty, it looked like twitter posts or bits of emails sent by several of my friends and from some colleagues. And while I could un-link from any of those people that I wanted, I did not have the option to just turn off Buzz completely. I was already enrolled, linked, hooked up, etc., without any sort of opt-in from me.

Over the weekend I heard even more horror stories, and finally a response from Google. They are apparently making a few changes to remove those automatic links and showings of your “circle of friends,” and making it possible to completely turn off Buzz from your settings. So far, those changes haven’t happened yet, but Google says they are rolling them out “over the next few days.” The minute it does, I’ll be shutting off Buzz.

Everyone uses their web-based email accounts differently. For me, gmail is not my first or preferred email; I don’t like how it threads emails so it is not useful for listserv mail for me, and I basically use it with only a few people and for emergency emails I have to send when I can’t get to my laptop. So the far-reaching implications of Google’s implementation of Buzz doesn’t affect me deeply. But for others who use gmail for everything, the lack of privacy in the Buzz rollout may have caused irreparable damage. I read at least two reports of people who had been exposed to ex-spouses and or abusers, and that alone is chilling.

What Google failed to consider, or ignored (I’m not sure which) is that not everyone I communicate with via an email account is someone I want in a social network. I talk to a lot of people via email. Not all of those people are in my Facebook, for example, nor do I want them to be. Google’s assumption that anyone I have contact with in email should be in my social circle and therefore able to see each other was misguided at best, and dangerous at worst.

I hope the changes are rolled out sooner rather than later, and that Google learns from this experience. I don’t ever want something like this shoved on me again. Makes me want to even further limit what I do in gmail, that’s for sure.