Hey, Google, you should have asked first…

Google forgot the first rule of social media when it released its Google Buzz social networking service. They forgot to listen first. Worse, they didn’t even start a conversation with their Gmail users. Many people woke up to find practically anyone they had ever sent a Gmail to suddenly their Buzz friends. This is not a case of “suggesting” that you might want to connect to or become a friend of someone connected to your friends (like LinkedIn and Facebook do) but “wiretapping” you and exploiting the object of all your private communications.

I also discovered that people that I had never met – or emailed – were suddenly my friends. Yes, I could choose to block them – after the fact. There were some men whose pictures showed up on my Buzz page as contacts that I neither wanted to engage with on my computer nor potentially have knocking on my front door.

Given the lack of privacy settings, the inability to block contacts before, not after, the fact, I disabled Google Buzz on my account. There was no feedback form asking why I disabled the feature, no request for suggestions about what they could do to get me to use the service in the future. Clearly Google thinks it is alright to throw something out there expecting that everyone will be grateful for whatever pixie dust falls on them. Well, I am throwing Buzz right back at Google and will be very wary of any new “gifts” that come my way from them. They will need to earn back my trust.


  1. R. Mark MooreR. Mark Moore02-17-2010

    Catherine: You’ll probobly like to know that a few other organizations took objection to Google as well. http://redtape.msnbc.com/2010/02/epic-google-may-have-broken-wiretap-law.html

  2. CatherineCatherine02-17-2010

    Mark: Thanks for the link. I used the term “wiretap” in my post because that was how I perceived it. It is interesting to see that I my perception may be not just a personal take on a situation but a legal reality.

  3. AndrewAndrew02-17-2010

    Gmail holds a contact list and Buzz works through Gmail, so you likely just confused your Gmail Contact list with Buzz connections. Yes, the Gmail contact list can include contacts you’ve only e-mailed or received e-mail from once and never manually added to the list, but this is not an invasion of privacy it is information contained in any messages you retain anyways(something anyone who does business via e-mail is likely to do for legal reasons).

    This functionality also is meant to make it easier to blacklist those same contacts if you choose.

    What makes me so certain you are not 100% correct in your assessment? When I logged into “my” Buzz account, something I had to MANUALLY activate from my Gmail(secondary account since my main has limited storage) after reading your article, it showed I had ZERO connections and was following ZERO others, and as I dug I found nothing to do but ADD contacts and subscriptions, nothing preexisting within Buzz to be removed.

    I highly doubt “Many people woke up to find practically anyone they had ever sent a Gmail to suddenly their Buzz friends.” In fact, other than the scenarios I already listed, I find it far more likely you or Google solicited the other to review this product and you were activated for an “evaluator’s version”; everything preactivated for the fullest initial impact of the possibilities of the product. My apologies on behalf of the interwebs for your sour experience whatever the cause, but maybe you should have looked into it more before mounting the soapbox?

  4. AndrewAndrew02-17-2010

    So, it turns out, what you had was actually a “sneak peek” at what your POTENTIAL connections were up to on Buzz. That “connections list” was NOT publicly viewable and would not have been so until you set up a publicly viewable profile if you chose to do so.

    The day after your article here google issued a press release apologising for not making it more clear and they have obviously executed the changes they promised in the four days since; As I said, my Buzz account doesn’t even have suggestions at the moment. That’s “not listening” par exellence.

  5. CatherineCatherine02-18-2010

    Andrew:

    I appreciate your recounting your experience. For the record, I am neither an evaluator nor someone prone to getting on a soapbox, but there is a line between providing convenience for users an being invasive, and – from my perspective – Google crossed the line.

    As a company Google gives the impression of a group of people who like to reinvent what others have done better (with the exception of their search engine), are not particularly good at user interface design, and don’t invite feedback. Many times what they do is good enough and the price is right (i.e. free), but privacy issues should get a strong response. With today’s technology, we consumers are just relying on the good will and good judgment of Google, Facebook and others to do the right thing.

  6. Marita RoebkesMarita Roebkes02-18-2010

    Google facing lawsuit over Buzz privacy in federal court – many complaints caused Google to quickly change some features. Then came a complaint to the FTC from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Now Google is facing a class-action lawsuit filed this week in federal court in California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle – http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/techchron/detail?entry_id=57438

    Marita
    http://xeesm.com/maritar

  7. Mohamed SantosMohamed Santos02-21-2010

    Personally I feel that Google Buzz’s release was a little premature, especially in regards to privacy. I also think that Google is going down the path that Windows experienced around the era of Windows ME. The latest products and products seem to be less planned and I feel that rushed in an attempt to be 1st to market, and compete with its competitors releases. The privacy issue was an issue that didn’t require was a very simple issue to figure out, a very basic review would have shown such issues. Do you think Google may have received too much credit last year?

  8. CatherineCatherine02-22-2010

    Mohamed: I do think that Google has been rushing things. They also seem to be stretching the limits of their competence. You can’t be all things to all people. Facebook focuses on one thing and has the ability to excel, but Google wants to be Facebook. Microsoft, Yahoo, and everyone else. That approach is likely to breed some mistakes and some missteps.

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