Google Buzz Still Has Major Privacy Flaw

Peeping Tom

Update: Google has made further changes that address most — but not all — of our concerns.

Earlier: Last night, Google (GOOG) tweaked its Twitter/Facebook competitor Google Buzz in order to address some widely-discussed consumer privacy concerns.

The changes are good, but they don’t go far enough.

Let’s be crystral clear: Our problem with Google Buzz has always been that, during new account setup, new users have to opt-out of publishing two lists: their followers and who is following them. That wouldn’t be a problem, except these lists are made up of the people users have, in their past, emailed and chatted with most.

The tweaks Google pushed last night do not change this option to opt-in. They do, however, make it easier for users to opt-out.

Previously, when a new user published their first message on Buzz, a dialogue box that looks like this popped up:
[image url="" link="lightbox" caption="" source="" alt="Buzz Flaw" align="left" size="xlarge" nocrop="true" clear="true"]
Now, this dialogue box looks like this:
[image url="" link="lightbox" caption="" source="" alt="Google improves Buzz privacy" align="left" size="xlarge" nocrop="true" clear="true"]
That’s a very good improvement and we’re glad Google made it. We especially appreciate how fast Google made these changes. Nice work, Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson!

However, we still have two immediate problems with the new set-up:

1. The box next to “show the list of people I’m following and the list of people following me on my public profile” is checked by default. Since this is an option to expose more of the user’s private information, it should be unchecked until the users checks it. If Google wants to explain to new users that it thinks their experience will be better if they check the box, then it should.

2. The sentence next to this new check box doesn’t fully explain to users what they’re allowing Google Buzz to publish — that is, a list of the people they email and chat with most. It should read “Show the list of people I’m following and the list of people following me on my public profile. Note: Right now, this list is made up of the people you email with and chat with most. Please review the list.”

Now, let’s be clear. We TOTALLY understand why Google believes it is better for everybody that this be an opt-out option. Users get a service that’s already set up. Public follower lists also make it very easy for users to find new people to follow. That’s useful and it helps Google grow Buzz much faster.Finally, when Google tested Google Buzz at the Googleplex, everyone agreed that this way was better and no one had any problems opting-out of settings that made them uncomfortable.

But we have a message for the brilliant people behind Google Buzz (and the rest of Google’s products): the rest of the world is NOT like you. These privacy concerns aren’t for the incredibly computer savvy, the patient beta testers, or Twitter and Facebook power users.

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.”

Some of these “normals” are physicians or mental health professionals who have patients they email with. Some of these people are journalists (ahem!) dealing with anonymous sources. Some of these people are spouses who are finding a safe way out of bad marriages with the help of someone their spouse doesn’t know about. Some of them are junior staffers, secretly arranging to get a 50% raise going to a new company to become a manager for the first time.

None of these people should 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 world these private relationships.

Google should be polite and ask them if they would like to.

Here’s how to IMMEDIATELY make these list private and then edit them >

Photo: swissrolli

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