Google Buzz: Will the Privacy #FAIL Overshadow the Tool's Potential?

BlogHer Original Post

Over past few months Google has been trying to secure their spot not just as the go-to search engine, but as a real player in social media. Google Wave and the Google Nexus One phone were cool options to the norm and just last week Google unveiled yet another new social media tool: Google Buzz. Buzz is one more way to share your thoughts, pictures, favorite articles, etc. with your friends. Unlike Wave and Nexus One, Buzz has not been well-received for one reason: privacy.

The Concern Over Google Buzz: Privacy

When you join Twitter or Facebook, you have to find the people you want to connect with. It may or may not be a hassle, but the bottom line is that you choose who you share information with or who you follow. When Google introduced Buzz, your network was already in place; Google used your Contacts list to build your network -- you didn't have to do a thing. But what was assumed (by Google) to be a feature, turned out to be a huge flaw: Google didn't ask your permission before sharing your contacts with your entire network. Not only that, but Buzz is an automatic tool -- you'll share your contacts whether you are using Buzz or not. As Don Cruse of The Supreme Court of Texas blog points out:

"[Buzz] was folded into Gmail, assimilated your contacts (and email history), and created these first social connections without ever asking permission. If you had ever created a Google Profile, then Google went a step further — it published these social connections in a place accessible to the world. And even if you had not yourself created a Google Profile, your social connections could still be exposed on the other person’s Google Profile."

The problem didn't stop there, though, turning Buzz off is another whole issue. Just clicking "turn off Buzz" at the bottom of your page won't do the trick (it only disables active links, but leaves your profile publicly available). How can you turn off your Buzz and keep your information safe? Jessica Dolcourt of CNET explains the three-step process for disabling Google Buzz and includes screen-shots to help you through the process.

Over the weekend Google reacted to the storm of complaints over the privacy issues by replacing the auto-follow feature with suggestions of people to follow (so you can choose who's in your network). Google also stopped the auto-connect feature for your Picasa albums and the items you share via your Google Reader. Google is also supposedly adding a Buzz tab to your Gmail Settings page that will allow you to control your Buzz settings and privacy. However, I don't see it on my page and Lifehacker reports that "[t]he Buzz tab isn't available yet, and [Google does] say "we're adding", but hopefully it'll be there soon."

Google Buzz As A Social Media Tool

Privacy issues aside, is Google Buzz a worthwhile social media tool? If you're already using Facebook and Twitter do you need to pay attention to Buzz? I think everything in its first iteration needs work and Buzz is no exception. If Google can fix the privacy issues immediately, Buzz may end up being as important as Twitter or Facebook. Alli Worthington said she thinks this first iteration of Buzz isn't what the tool will ultimately be: "Considering Google's track record of always bringing the awesome, my guess is what we see is simply the first step. In 12 months, what now looks like more noise online, will be a way we streamline the social web."

Ben Parr of Mashable wrote that Buzz isn't just a simple add-on to Gmail, it's "a nuclear bomb whose fallout will permanently alter the social media landscape." He goes on to report that while Buzz won't kill either Facebook or Twitter, it could slow their growth and in its first week Buzz was already used more than Twitter. The result is that Google Buzz may, in fact, change the game. Parr thinks the impact of Buzz "is already changing the landscape. Gmail integration, real-time commenting, ease of use, and a new base of users that might not have been as socially engaged are now part of the Buzz universe . . . Not only can you expect Facebook and Twitter to respond with their own features and partnerships, but you can expect developers to shift their focus as well."

What do you think? If you're using Google Buzz, leave me a comment telling me how -- what are you sharing and what's garnering feedback for you? If you're not using Google Buzz is it because of the privacy issues or something else? How do you see Buzz affecting the flow of social media in six months?

BlogHers who are weighing in on Google Buzz:

If you want more information about how Google is using your personal information or how to set your Google settings so they're in line with how you want to share your information, check out the following articles:

If you're one of the millions who are excited about Google Buzz, you may enjoy these helpful articles:

Melanie writes tips and instructions for bloggers at Blogging Basics 101. You can follow her on Tumblr for links to the latest and most interesting tech-related articles.

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