Google Buzz Privacy Update

Electronic Frontier FoundationOver the weekend, Google announced significant changes to its new social networking service, Buzz. Responding to criticism (including EFF’s), Google moved away from the system in which Buzz automatically sets you up to follow the people you email and chat with most. Instead, Google has adopted an auto-suggest model, in which you are shown the friend list with an option to de-select people before publishing the list. While a full opt-in model would be less likely to result in inadvertent disclosures of private information, this is a significant step forward.

In addition, Google said it would show current Buzz users the setup process again, giving a second chance to review and confirm the follower list “over the next couple weeks.” We recommend that all current Buzz users immediately turn off the public list, and review their friend list before making it public again. (Instructions)

Google will also stop automatically connecting Picasa Web Albums and Google Reader shared items, and allow users to hide Buzz from Gmail or disable it completely.

These problems arose because Google attempted to overcome its market disadvantage in competing with Twitter and Facebook by making a secondary use of your information. Google leveraged information gathered in a popular service (Gmail) with a new service (Buzz), and set a default to sharing your email contacts to maximize uptake of the service. In the process, the privacy of Google users was overlooked and ultimately compromised. Continue reading.

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