Google just can't catch a break lately. Its new social networking functionality, Google Buzz, is just a few weeks old and already critics are all over it. The biggest beef so far? You guessed it: privacy concerns.
According to Business Insider, when users first signed up for Google Buzz, they were automatically set up to follow and be followed by the people on their Gmail contact list with whom they communicate the most. And if they don't edit the default settings, those lists (the people they follow and the people who follow them) are made public in the users' profiles. Google tweaked the product after users complained, but many observers aren't satisfied that the changes are enough.
Writer Nicholas Carlson explains that although the changes make the opt-out option more obvious to users when they are setting up their Buzz accounts, the option to publish the lists should be one that users can choose to opt into if they would like. He says:
Our concerns are for the people who, when encountering a new service, click "save and continue" until it is completely set-up and functional, reading as little text in various dialogue boxes as they can. These people are the people we call the "normals."... [They should not] be expected to "catch" the fact that, when they begin using Google Buzz without changing any default settings, they are about to expose to the private relationships.
One example of a "normal" who should be able to protect herself is the blogger pointed out by GigaOM who found her abusive ex and his friends "automatically" following her after she signed up for Buzz. And at PCWorld.com, Henry McCracken says there's a simple solution to the problem. Simpler even than just separating Buzz from Gmail altogether. Give users the option to not convert their Gmail contacts into followers. Then they can pick and choose whom they will follow and who will be allowed to follow them, as well as whether to make those lists part of their public profiles.