The other week I wrote about my own complicity in sharing my private data via Facebook. I do this and I continue to do it because I gain something from using Facebook. I think of Facebook as going to a local coffee shop. You are able to keep up with a wide variety of people and overhear a variety of conversations. For the most part, it is fun. Most of all, you choose with whom you interact and decide whether to friend or not friend someone.
Last week, Google launched, “Buzz”. In case you have been under a rock and haven’t heard, the company initially opened up all Gmail users’ contacts to be viewed and known by the other contacts in the Gmail users’ address book. In other words, all Gmail users were immediately “opted in”, the moment you opened up Gmail. For more information on how it works, please watch Google’s video introduction below.
[26 December 2013: Google has removed this video. You may view some screenshots at TechCrunch.]
Let’s see: I don’t mind if my friends on Facebook see my other friends, but do I want everyone on my email contact list to know every person I have in my address book? No. I file this under, “Google’s intentions were good, but the company bombed in the implementation of this product.” With Facebook, I might be complicit in my data sharing privacy violations, but I was aware of those when I signed up for the service. I did not agree to make my email address book public when I signed up with Google. I had no choice but to share my data the moment I logged into my account, which I had to do before I could “opt out” of Buzz.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) filed a complaint with the FTC on Tuesday, saying that Google Buzz, which is location-based and integrated with Gmail, had been launched without taking user privacy properly into account.
“This complaint concerns an attempt by Google, Inc, the provider of a widely used email service to convert the private, personal information of Gmail subscribers into public information for the company’s social-network service Google Buzz,” said the Epic FTC filing.
Google Buzz, launched on 9 February, taps into a Gmail account to set up a group of people with whom the account holder can chat and network. When it was introduced, users signing into Gmail were automatically set up with Google Buzz. How does Buzz compare to Twitter and Facebook? Cashmore believes that Facebook is great for “managing your personal life”, and that Twitter “is ideal for public messaging”.
The service also automatically populated the users’ networks with the people they emailed and talked to the most. If the user then set up a public profile in Buzz, the service automatically made their list of contacts public.
After the outcry that followed the release of the service, Google changed the privacy settings so that users must “opt-in” to use Buzz. Which, of course, is “too little, too late” for the thousands, if not, millions, of users whose privacy was compromised.
Once the privacy issues are settled, we come to the question of, “What is Buzz Good for“? Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, compares Buzz to a campus — it “proves most useful when you’re in search of answers”. How does Buzz stack up against Facebook and Twitter? Cashmore writes that if Buzz is equal to a campus, then Facebook is the “local bar” and Twitter is the “town square”. Katherine Boehret of The Wall Street Journal writes that, “Google Buzz Isn’t Exactly Humming Along“. While the program itself is fine (excluding the now-ameliorated privacy issues), she thinks it falls flat primarily because, “it’s late to the social-networking party”. She and her friends are sticking to Twitter and Facebook, because they don’t want yet another social networking site to check.
I don’t use Gmail as my primary email software, so when I opened it up I found only one follower. I deleted the follower, notified her that I wasn’t going to use Buzz and that my blocking her wasn’t personal, and then opted out of Buzz. I also deleted my entire Gmail address book, as I have a local copy I can refer to, if needed. I can’t give a personal opinion as to what I think it is good for. Like Boehret and her friends, I also don’t have the time for yet another social networking service.
Have you used Buzz? If so, what do you think of it? Do you feel that Gmail invaded your privacy by opting in your address book for public viewing? Will you add Buzz to your social networking repertoire?