Bad Buzz Batters Google Into Brandishing Better Buzz

Google Revises Its Social Network Buzz After Privacy Complaints

2 min read
Bad Buzz Batters Google Into Brandishing Better Buzz

Google beat two hasty retreats, regrouped and apologized to Gmail users in the wake of massive criticism over its privacy rules or lack thereof when it introduced its Buzz social media network service last week.

Google's Buzz, as the New York Timesnoted last week, "comes with a built-in circle of friends, a group that is automatically selected by Google based on the people that a user communicates with most frequently in Gmail and on Google’s chat service."

That feature infuriated many Gmail users who pointed out that they often used Gmail to communicate with their bosses and others who they didn't really want (and who they didn't believe wanted to be either) included as a Buzz "friend." Other Gmail users complained that they didn't want to have a Buzz account at all, and were not happy to hear that they were being included by default. Still other Gmail users worried that who they were corresponding with might be inadvertently disclosed.

So Google made some changes to Buzz last Thursday and again over the weekend after Thursday's changes didn't quell the uproar.

What apparently has calmed things down is Google's decision over the weekend to only "suggest" a circle of friends, rather than automatically setting one up, says a New York Times story yesterday. Google is also saying that it will be setting up a tab in the Gmail page to hide Buzz from Gmail users completely if they want.

The Times says, "The page gives users the option to disable Buzz, deleting their posts and removing their Google profile, which in many cases listed publicly their circle of contacts in Buzz. The new feature could address concerns that disabling Buzz and removing a public profile was a multistep process that confused many users and that some described as a game of whack-a-mole."

Todd Jackson, product manager for Gmail and Google Buzz, was quoted in the Times as apologizing for the problems:"We're very sorry for the concern we've caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback... We'll continue to do so."

The Times story notes also that Google claims that tens of millions of its 176 million Gmail users have tried out Buzz, so Google's expectation is that this contretemps will blow over.

I do hope that in the meantime Google will remember that just because software allows you to do something clever doesn't automatically mean you should.

The Conversation (0)

How Police Exploited the Capitol Riot’s Digital Records

Forensic technology is powerful, but is it worth the privacy trade-offs?

11 min read
 Illustration of the silhouette of a person with upraised arm holding a cellphone in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Superimposed on the head is a green matrix, which represents data points used for facial recognition
Gabriel Zimmer

The group of well-dressed young men who gathered on the outskirts of Baltimore on the night of 5 January 2021 hardly looked like extremists. But the next day, prosecutors allege, they would all breach the United States Capitol during the deadly insurrection. Several would loot and destroy media equipment, and one would assault a policeman.

No strangers to protest, the men, members of the America First movement, diligently donned masks to obscure their faces. None boasted of their exploits on social media, and none of their friends or family would come forward to denounce them. But on 5 January, they made one piping hot, family-size mistake: They shared a pizza.

Keep Reading ↓Show less