Super-powered social media tool Google Buzz released, raises privacy concerns

4 03 2010

Lately, it seems, every social media mogul has jumped on the Twitter train, and search engine giant Google is no exception. The company released Google Buzz, its own microblogging tool, Feb. 9, allowing users to share photos, videos, links and status updates – this time with no 140-character limit. (See FutureWeb speaker Chris DiBona‘s Buzz account here, on his personal profile page: http://www.google.com/profiles/cdibona.)

The logo appeared as a tab in Gmail users' inboxes Feb. 9, prompting them to "follow" their contacts in a fashion similar to Twitter.

Unlike other social networks, Buzz started with a built-in user base. Anyone with a Gmail account was automatically enrolled into the network, inviting some serious privacy concerns. Gmail users who thought their contact lists were private now run the risk of exposing who they’ve been in contact with. The privacy policy states, “When you first enter Google Buzz, to make the startup experience easier, we may automatically select people for you to follow based on the people you e-mail and chat with most.”

To most, this sounds helpful, but to professionals like journalists and lawyers with confidential sources and clients, it threatens to unravel entire private networks.

FutureWeb keynote speaker and social media expert danah boyd recognized this oversight quickly, Tweeting a link to an article that gives users a step-by-step guide to turning down the noise.

“Privacy isn’t a technological binary that you turn off and on,” boyd has said. “Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways.”

Users are shown are preview of the landing interface on Google Buzz's Web site. Photo courtesy of Google.

For those unsatisfied with Buzz’s current form, Google has launched an official product ideas Web site on which users can make suggestions. More than 900 have already contributed.

But far from the privacy threat some perceive it to be, Google calls its social tool a new way for users to connect with the networks they already have.

“Buzz is like an entirely new world inside of Gmail,” product manager Todd Jackson said. “Organizing the worlds’ social information has become a large-scale problem, the kind Google likes to solve.”

Striving to be more sophisticated than its competitors, the network uses an algorithm to filter through posts and publish only the information it deems a particular user would find interesting. It might even “recommend” posts from people a user is not following based on the people who comment. Like other social networks, it is integrated for mobile use, and plans for expansion are in the works.

Buzz is set to hit the Middle East in the near future, with an expected launch in Arabic.

“The service will be available across the world,” Google Chief Internet Evangelist and FutureWeb keynote Vint Cerf told reporters in Dubai.

Google Buzz has been integrated for mobile use. Photo courtesy of Google.

By Rachel Cieri

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