Terry Zink: Security Talk

Discussing Internet security in (mostly) plain English

What’s all the Buzz about?

What’s all the Buzz about?

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Well, I wasn’t going to blog about Google Buzz, yet here I am. 

I used to own shares in Google, and at the time I did, Google could do no wrong.  It didn’t matter that none of their products made money other than Search.  Then, I sold them.  I suddenly started to evaluate them a lot more critically.  I realized that they have a lot of products that get deployed and after the initial hype, you don’t hear too much from them again.

Google Buzz is the latest incarnation.  In case you haven’t been paying attention, Buzz is Google’s equivalent to Twitter (I guess Twitter was too expensive to buy).  You can post short updates about your status, musings, and so forth.  A lot like Twitter.

But Google Buzz takes it a step further.  Because Google already has a very large user base that uses its existing Gmail product, it can import all of them automatically and make them your friends.  As CAUCE puts it:

Buzz takes all of your GMail contacts (and presumably other connections from elsewhere within the Googleplex), and makes them all your "friends" by default; it then shares your activity from Google Reader, YouTube, and other tools with all of them, and vice versa.  They can see who your friends are, and you can see who theirs are.  It's a quick & impressive way to make a whole new social network out of the original social networking tool: email.

Only one problem: all of those connections, and all of that public information, happens by default.  You do get to choose whether or not to activate Buzz, but apparently it's activated either way — and if you say no, you won't have access to the nearly-hidden privacy controls.

Building a social network is great; signing up for a new service and then automatically have your contacts imported… not so much.  You don’t necessarily want everyone in your social network to be part of your contacts list with access to everything.  Facebook has got that figured out.  I have friends on Facebook who are friends with others but don’t want to share everything.  Do you want your mom seeing those pictures of you consuming too much alcohol at a party?  On Facebook, you can set levels of access.  Some friends have partial profiles available for people they don’t know very well, and more details exposed to people they know much better.  Multiple levels of access are what we do in real life, and more and more this is becoming a requirement in the online world as well.

Not having the choice to expose information intrudes on privacy.  Of course, in a wired world privacy is kind of a gray area anyway in real terms, but Google’s choice (more likely an oversight due to inexperience) is an inept move on their part. 

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  • Update: Google is taking all of this feedback across the blogosphere and is adding privacy controls.  Nice to see them react quickly.

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