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February 12, 2010

Welcome to Google Buzz, also known as Public Gmail!

In the futuristic digital world that Google wants to create – the Googlenet – there is no such thing as user privacy. So naturally, Google didn't bother to build meaningful privacy safeguards into its latest offering, Google Buzz, which is basically an attempt to further monetize and exploit the people that Google has lured into signing up for Gmail:

When Google introduced Buzz — its answer to Facebook and Twitter — it hoped to get the service off to a fast start. New users of Buzz, which was added to Gmail on Tuesday, found themselves with a ready-made network of friends automatically selected by the company based on the people that each user communicated with most frequently through Google’s e-mail and chat services.

But what Google viewed as an obvious shortcut stirred up a beehive of angry critics. Many users bristled at what they considered an invasion of privacy, and they faulted the company for failing to ask permission before sharing a person’s Buzz contacts with a broad audience. For the last three days, Google has faced a firestorm of criticism on blogs and Web sites, and it has already been forced to alter some features of the service.

Whoops.

Normally, when Google rolls out a new product that lacks privacy safeguards, it faces some criticism, but the Monster of Mountain View always brushes it off. Refreshingly, it looks like that might be harder to do in this case.

[C]ritics said that Google’s decision to use e-mail and chat correspondence as the basis of a social network was fundamentally misguided. While it is common for social networks to make public a person’s list of friends and followers, those lists are not typically created from e-mail conversations.

“People thought what they had was an address book for an e-mail program, and Google decided to turn that into a friends list for a new social network,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington. “E-mail is one of the few things that people understand to be private.”

Yeah, but Gmail's not private… it never has been. It's a product offered by Google, which inherently means there is no guarantee of privacy whatsoever. People who want their email to be secure and deletable should use a service like Hushmail that actually respects their privacy.

Of course, Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan had to make this dumb comment:

I don’t think people expected that Google would show the world who you are connected with.

Well, we Google skeptics did. This is par for the course.

If there is a silver lining to Google's continuing onslaught against privacy, it's that more people are starting to take Google skeptics (like those of us here at LGB) seriously. Google is still growing like a dangerous cancer, but the number of people who are developing a healthy suspicion of Google is also growing. Hopefully, the growth of the latter will soon outpace the growth of the former.

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