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Friday, February 12, 2010

5 Reasons Why Gmail Buzz Privacy Isn’t All That Bad

Google released Buzz for Gmail and there are issues if you’re not careful with your settings as well as possibly unwanted group overlaps (I wouldn’t be too surprised if in the future, a less tech savvy family member posts a meant-to-be-private reply to a public buzz message of yours, because after all Google did integrate something very public into a product that was formerly rather private). However, Rome isn’t burning and Sergey Brin isn’t playing the fiddle, and yesterday I saw some people who apparently think that Google now simply reveals all your Gmail contacts, which isn’t true. Here are some things on the other hand which I understand to be true (please correct me if I’m wrong):

  1. Again, Google won’t just reveal your Gmail address book to the world. Only if you opt-in to follow certain people who are suggested to you in Buzz do they have a chance to show up on your public Google profile as people you follow. If you’re e.g. a journalist who’s in contact with sources who like to remain anonymous, make sure you handle Buzz with care. Note others may follow you and thus show up on your profile, though.
  2. Even if someone is shown to follow you in Buzz, it does not mean they’re your contact, or that you email frequently with them, or that you even know them. By default anyone who finds you in Buzz can follow you. If your competing company’s boss is showing up on your profile it’s not proof you’re looking to switch offices – the other party may simply be interested in what you have to say, similar perhaps to how they might follow your RSS feed if you write a blog.
  3. You can decide to only write private group messages in Buzz, or if you don’t want to use it at all, you can turn off Buzz in your Gmail. For the latter, click on “turn off buzz” at the bottom of Gmail. Note though what Sam writes in the forum: “If you turn off buzz in your Gmail account it doesn’t change anything. All your posts stay on your profile and you can still comment on things via the profile ... It’s literally only turning it off within Gmail.” (Does anyone know more about this point?)
  4. You can turn off having contacts be shown on your profile. Just go to your profile settings and check off “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me”. (Note when I tried yesterday, this setting didn’t show in every account, I’m not sure why.)
  5. Google is already rolling out changes due to feedback, making certain privacy related issues more visible in the interface. Per their blog post, now or soon, in the “How do you want to appear to others” dialog, there’s supposed to be a checkbox reading “Show the list of people I’m following and the list of people following me on my public profile”. (Does anyone know if this is checked by default?) Google might have rolled out this thing too aggressively – no test phase to wait for feedback first, and already “tens of millions of people have checked Buzz out”, according to Google – but the speed in which they react to this is good.

In the end, since Buzz arrived you might need to be a bit more careful now when using Gmail. Google may be aware of this trade-off but it looks like they’re really eager to get this social network/ messaging console out to casual users – remember, tons of less all-encompassing features start their life as opt-in Gmail Labs experiments where only early adopters might use them, but this one didn’t. I think it’ll be worth to continue closely watch privacy issues Buzz might raise.

[Thanks MBegin and Sam!]


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