INTERNET OVERLORD Google has stirred up some controversy with the rollout of its Buzz social notworking feature.
Just twenty-four hours after it was launched, Buzz has been criticised by users across the Internet, with some suggesting it is breaching their privacy and others complaining that in one fell swoop it has merged their personal and professional worlds. Which isn't a good thing.
Google's Buzz is supposed to set the people you follow and the people following you depending on who you contact the most. However, in our experience this is not always the case. In fact, it has proved difficult to block some followers, many of whom we have not contacted for a long time. That became particularly frustrating when it appeared that there was no obvious way to do so. Panicked users were turning to us for advice within an hour of turning on their computers and minutes after their first taste of Google's Buzz.
The BusinessInsider has gone all out on this, and published an article specifically designed to help users navigate their way back out of Buzz. In the story, it shows what Google has apparently failed to do, that is, show users how to change their settings from what appear to be a series of unchangeable presets. If you do not, it warned, you run the risk of exposing all of your email contacts to all of your followers. That's not ideal for lots of people, in many circumstances.
Nicholas Carlson, an editor at Silicon Valley Insider, wrote, "The whole point is: Google should just ask users: 'Do you want to follow these people we've suggested you follow based on the fact that you email and chat with them? Warning: This will expose to the public who you email and chat with most.' Google should not let users proceed to using Buzz until they click, 'Yes, publish these lists.' In my profession -- where anonymous sourcing is a crucial tool -- the implications of this flaw are terrifying."
Elsewhere Zscaler research blogger Mike Geide warned that spammers would use this loose grip on privacy to validate email addresses. Given that spam is already at 95 per cent of all traffic we can't welcome anything that might increase this further.
"As a spammer, one could create a network of Gmail accounts connected to Buzz and follow a large number of users, follow their followers, etc. Harvest user names / alias names for those being followed, and do best guess attempts at guessing their email address and start sending test messages," he wrote. "Once a successful guess has occurred, the email address will then be exposed in the Buzz interface validating that the email address exists and is tied to that user."
Already our own contacts are already complaining about the service, suggesting that it is unneeded, particularly as it duplicates some Buzz notifications in the Gmail inbox. This redundant backup is a bit bewildering, but not quite so shocking as Buzz's ability to expose things like your photo albums and personal blogs to your current, past and prospective friends, family, and employers.
As Google itself explained when launching the Twitter-like feeds, "Buzz integrates tightly with your existing Gmail inbox, so you're sure to see the stuff that matters most as it happens in real time". We just didn't think that it would show us this 'stuff' in more than one place, to everyone.
Perhaps most damning, in our experience at least, is that no one seems to be using Buzz. Despite a couple of appreciative messages first thing this morning, most of the noise coming from our Buzz has been disappointed groans, or panicked posts about how best to stop it.
We've already noticed the turn off Buzz link at the bottom of the whole Gmail page, in small writing. It's too early for a switch off here, but we can't help but wonder how many others will select the option once it becomes apparent to them. µ