We all knew that when Buzz was released there were immediate privacy concerns since you could see Goog users all over the place without their explicit permission. But it turns out the issue is worse than just that. The NY Times has an article in today’s paper discussing the thorny issues. See, Google took your email contacts and turned them into friends for others to see.

E-mail, it turns out, can hold many secrets, from the names of personal physicians and illicit lovers to the identities of whistle-blowers and antigovernment activists. And Google, so recently a hero to many people for threatening to leave China after hacking attempts against the Gmail accounts of human rights activists, now finds itself being pilloried as a clumsy violator of privacy.

As Evgeny Morozov wrote in a blog post for Foreign Policy, “If I were working for the Iranian or the Chinese government, I would immediately dispatch my Internet geek squads to check on Google Buzz accounts for political activists and see if they have any connections that were previously unknown to the government.”

They continue:

Google is known for releasing new products before they are fully ready and then improving them over time. But its decision to do so with Buzz, coupled with its introduction to all 176 million Gmail users by default, appears to have backfired.

What do you guys think? Are you using Buzz and how big of a misstep was this for your privacy rights?


  1. Luckily, I’d only just started using Gmail in the last 2 weeks (since getting my new desktop) so the only contact I had was Doug Smith. :( I’ve very quickly turned Buzz off and disabled everything I could (and have nothing in my profile anyway). But I’m very, very disappointed in how this has been handled. They’ve got some serious damage-control to do.

  2. Wait….. did you just say that this is gonna weed out conspirators, terrorists and the like. SWEET! Really though I dont think this is giving actual access to an inbox is it? Maybe I misunderstood the concept but all I see is that when you want to share you buzz when you dont you dont. You dont actually believe anyone that is trying to keep it down low and isnt full of shiz is gonna use this crap newayz do you? Seriously lets try to keep it real, I am an international spy hmm….. I should get on facebook, twitter,myspace and blog about it then I think I will turn on lattitude so that you can follow my adventures and when I get somewhere top secret I will freakin buzz all of you and tell you about the cool stuff I’m doing. Do people actually use there brain before writing about this crap and accusing Google of a colossal blunder or do they just twitterpate about it! STPD!

  3. @ Brock – it’s unfortunately more likely the opposite. A US insider/informat could easily have their contacts with the government revealed openly. There’s no acess to your inbox but when Buzz goes on your ‘friends’ are shown. Those friends are automatically compiled from your email contacts. Clearly it’s not something thats happening a million times a day, but it does show an example of why people don’t want their contacts automatically shared.

  4. Simply login to google.com, click on settings>Google account Settings then click on Edit Profile. Simply uncheck the ‘show followers’ option. Boom. Privacy.

  5. @DavidK: …….still if you are worth finding are you gonna be using this crap…. really? The president isn’t even allowed to use a Blackberry.

  6. The president is not using a Blackberry- it’s a WinCE phone (not Windows Mobile – actual CE) but it’s highly encrypted. BB goes through Canada…it’s a no go.
    @Brock – I have a few friends in the government in various jobs and some of them do undercover work. And it may not be a good idea but I do know that they use gmail accounts. I’m not sure how much they mix those personal and business accounts but I know a lot of people are sloppy with things like that…

  7. even if it was like… i dunno… tiger woods (i know its old news) and he used gmail, and decided to buzz his fans… then realized his wifey has buzz and now she can see all his gmail contacts! “who’s this “naughtylover101″ i see on your gmail account tiger!” then hes all “oh i dont know, never heard of her” she then calls “bullshit!” and wants to read his emails from “naughtylover101″…. get where this is going?, google fucked up, plain and simple. if going to make the whole contact list viewable they should have put it in red bold letters next to a checkbox before you get to download the app. problem solved, then all the people who have gmail that dont want thier contacts seen would know not to be a dumbass and use this.

  8. […] after. They want to know what you do, what you search, where you are…well, we remember when they had some privacy issues with Buzz, right? Personally, I’m fine paying a few dollars for a license to have software that’s built […]

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