Last week Google rolled out Buzz, it’s new foray into social media. The buzz (sorry) has been both positive and negative. I think the negative is winning as more of the warts are coming through the usual Google veneer. There’s even a parody video on YouTube about it. Now the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charging that Google may have violated privacy laws and federal wiretap laws. These are serious issues.
The crux of the complaints are that users who said yes to Buzz had an instant social network from their email contact lists. So now all my business and personal contacts in Gmail can see my streams of information and everyone elses. Talk about a violation of privacy and integrity. And the worst part was that I couldn’t select anything, it just happened. In Facebook and Twitter, I pick who I follow and who becomes my friend. With Buzz, I don’t have a choice. Google thinks they know better than I do. To Google’s credit they did respond to complaints, but why did this happen in the first place?
The Canadian government is getting into the mix and there are complaints out of Ireland and Asia. There is a general undercurrent of concern over Google’s monopoly in search, but most of us just accept it. We understand that if its on the Internet, privacy is lost. If you are concerned about the security of your information, don’t put it on Facebook or other social networks. But we usually trust that our email isn’t public unless we choose to make it so.
I think that more government, privacy and consumer groups will weigh in on this before it blows over. I would like to think that this was an honest mistake by Google, but somehow I doubt it. If Buzz was something in Google Labs, that would be a different story. It feels like they threw it out there and wanted to see who complained, privacy and security be damned. When the yelling started they did a mea culpa and changed a few things. We shall see how this concludes, but I think that privacy and Google mentioned together has become an oxymoron.
Picture credit martinhoward