If you use Gmail you may have noticed a new feature called “Buzz”, which is Google’s attempt to create something like Facebook.
Email and Facebook-type social networking services are different in function and in their users’ privacy expectations. Google erred by 1) assuming that users of email, the less intrusive service, would want to be signed up by default for the more intrusive social networking service, and 2) configuring the privacy settings of the social networking service in a way that can casually expose a user’s private information before the user has a chance, or even knows, to change the relevant settings.
Here is an example of the kinds of problems Google’s new scheme caused.
Here are instructions for restoring the (relative) privacy of your Google account.
Google will probably correct its blunder soon if it hasn’t already. But it’s interesting that they blundered in this way in the first place. They showed a Microsoftian level of cluelessness about privacy and security. It’s as if the Google offices were a monoculture of young computer geeks for whom clever new features are first and foremost cool toys with business upside and no downside, rather than complex systems that sometimes interact in unexpected ways and may have the potential to harm people who have something to lose. Oh, wait…
Google’s “don’t be evil” motto, always a cynical joke, deserves at least as much ridicule as does the DHS terror-threat color code. People in China learned this some time ago.
Don’t be stupid. Don’t trust Google or other free Web-service providers with information that you can’t afford to make public.
UPDATE: An attorney offers scathing and insightful critique of Google here and here. The second linked post gives additional advice on deactivating your Buzz account, including a link to Google’s own instructions for doing this.