Google Buzz: Lessons learned on personal privacy
March 1, 2010 | By Damon Armour, IT Security Officer, contributing writer
Web 2.0 has brought many new online concepts and communication methods to the world. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace are just a few of the primary services available to stay in constant communications with our peers and beyond. The exciting part of Web 2.0 is the growth across all age groups, not just the younger generation; Facebook, in particular, has enabled individuals of all ages to connect with family and friends. As these tools enable us to reach new and old friends, privacy remains a hot topic. Our information is a valuable asset that needs to be protected. This brings us to the new player in town, Google Buzz.
Google recently released an online social networking tool similar to Facebook, called Buzz. Google describes Buzz as:
a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting. It’s built right into Gmail, so you don’t have to peck out an entirely new set of friends from scratch, it just works. If you think about it, there’s always been a big social network underlying Gmail. Buzz brings this network to the surface by automatically setting you up to follow the people you email and chat with the most. We focused on building an easy-to-use sharing experience that richly integrates photos, videos and links, and makes it easy to share publicly or privately (so you don’t have to use different tools to share with different audiences).
Google’s new service was quickly criticized for not protecting an individual’s privacy. What was intended to make it easier for individuals to follow one another, allowed people to see individuals the user was communicating with in Gmail. For example, a supervisor could see that the user had conversations with an individual at a competitive firm. This auto-follow feature was quickly adjusted by Google to only provide suggestions by the user on who had permission to follow them.
Google also made adjustments to two other features in mid-February. A user’s public Picasa Web Albums and Google Reader shared materials would not automatically be made available. Lastly, a feature was enabled that allows users to turn off Google Buzz and have their profile removed. Yet these changes have not stopped the concerns on privacy.
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In the complaint Epic states:
They are requesting the following from the FTC:
The debate continues with Google’s new product called Buzz , although possibly not in the manner that Google had intended. It has certainly lived up to its name so far. Privacy and social networking will always be interconnected. Educating users about the service and allowing them to properly set up their profiles are key to gaining trust and enabling everyone a good first and lasting experience. If you are a Google Buzz user, ensure that you are comfortable with your information sharing. Also, if you are not interested in Buzz, but are a Gmail user, you may disable the service at the bottom of your Gmail page. Until an opt-in option is available, this is the best method of avoiding any potential unwanted information sharing.
Resources / further information:
Google Buzz - http://www.google.com/buzz
NY Times: Anger Leads to Apology From Google About Buzz - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/15/technology/internet/15google.html
CNET: Privacy group files Buzz complaint with FTC - http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20000076-264.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20
EPIC - http://epic.org/2010/02/epic-urges-federal-trade-commi.html