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More Stingers Built Into Google Buzz


Privacy is still not a concern with the new web app.


It's only been a few days since Google (GOOG) launched its Buzz social networking tool and already it's had to play damage control over some serious privacy concerns. (See Google: Ruining Marriages One Buzz at a Time.) Users who saw their private contacts posted for anyone to see have taken issue with the service, and Google is trying its best to relay information to the new user on how to better control their sensitive information.

But issues still remain.

The company has added a checkbox during the registration stage which allows the user to choose if they want to keep the list of followers and people they're following hidden from public view. It's a good start and something that should have been implemented from the beginning. However, the choice becomes a tad confusing when only folks with public profiles appear on the list of users following you.

Despite the disorientation, Google isn't making it easier to induct novices into a new social network with its overabundance of lists, public profiles, and user settings. And as the public beta testing continues, users have found another privacy concern.

Google Buzz includes a popular aspect of Twitter: the @reply. Like Twitter, Buzz users can direct a comment or reply to another user by inserting the @ symbol before their name. But unlike Twitter, where users have one name to one account, most users have multiple email addresses and the person replying is given a choice of which one to use -- including the private emails not used for their public accounts.

So, since it's still not clear which email a person uses for their public profile, another user can inadvertently choose the wrong email to reply to -- exposing it to everyone on his followers list. And for users with followers in the hundreds, any one of them could be a spammer or person with nefarious intentions.

TechCrunch posted a picture of the service flaw and included a reply from Google spokesperson regarding the situation:

Generally typing someone's email address autocompletes with that person's name and therefore their address is not visible to anyone. Only in cases when you don't have access to a person's name and there is no name to connect to that email address, the system will show that person's address instead of their name. This is very rare, and only happens when:

  • the person who's address you're typing doesn't have a public profile OR

  • b) they are not following you and you are not connected via Chat. The moment you post, it will be very obvious that the email address is publicly visible, and you can always edit and/or delete that post.

This is assuming that people with public profiles only have one email address -- simply a rarity in 2010. The spokesperson added that the company expects users to notice their mistake and modify or delete the post after the fact. Another dangerous assumption.

And for those who want to avoid the mess altogether, there's a series of digital hoops you must first jump through, as Jessica Dolcourt of CNet points out. Opting out of Google Buzz doesn't begin and end by clicking "Turn off Buzz" at the bottom of your Gmail profile screen. You must first individually unfollow and block every follower you have. Just clicking "Turn off Buzz" won't remove your profile or any post you might have made.

Even putting the privacy blunders aside, the unintuitive settings and cumbersome opt-out process makes this a horrific beginning to Google Buzz. And given the utter confusion it's caused, maybe the company should dub it Google Wave 2.0.

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