Is Google generating the right ‘Buzz’?

Published On:
Thursday, February 18, 2010
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So, what’s the latest buzz? If you ask Google, their latest foray into total World Wide Web domination, Buzz, is the biggest buzz on the Web scene. The Internet giant’s latest service integrates social media and e-mail to create a formidable rival pitted against the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

Buzz, in its infancy, has already exploded, surpassing over nine million posts and comments just two days after its launch on Feb. 9, according to Mashable.com. Pretty impressive, but part of that number is because of the genius behind Buzz; it is a feature of Gmail, Google’s popular e-mail client, so users gaining the full advantage of an instant social network via their contacts list.

But there’s a catch: privacy.

Facebook has already endured numerous waves of criticism due to its privacy policy, which, especially to unaware users, can provide a means to showcase your personal life to strangers or people you’d rather not have any contact with. In the Internet age, privacy is a precious commodity.

Buzz wasn’t so quick to capitalize off of the previous privacy breaches of its predecessors and fellow competitors.

Some Gmail users are furious, and for good reason.

Though Buzz is an innovative approach to social media, the innate embedding with Gmail proves to be a sticking point as far as privacy is concerned. E-mail is generally viewed as a more private domain; However, with the advent of Buzz, the thin line between public and private on the Web becomes less defined.

Google made a few key mistakes in its unveiling of Buzz — users initially had no choice or knowledge of being a part of it. An automatic list of followers was generated based on contacts with the most correspondence, and every follower was displayed on the user’s Google profile, which essentially made the contact list public, as well as Picasa photo albums and other Web sites.

Google has now corrected these kinks, changing the auto-follow to an auto suggest format, and no longer automatically connecting other Web sites to Buzz.

The Gmail official blog apologized, “We’re very sorry for the concern we’ve caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We’ll continue to do so.”

With Buzz, Google is poised to takeover a significant margin of the social media demand. The issue is not so much the concept behind Buzz, but its introduction.

It’s a well-known fact that privacy on the Internet has taken a backseat more than ever in the name of social networking. The scary thing is that many of these privacy changes occur and the user isn’t even aware of them, much less how to resolve them.

Google thought it was doing the world a favor by its initial automatic linkages, and assuming that everyone who embraced Gmail would embrace Buzz. Well, no.

It’s OK to aim big for convenience, but if you happen to be an executive for Google/Facebook/Myspace etc., reading this, let users make the decisions for themselves about what they want revealed before you make assumptions first.

Buzz Alana at alana.arbuthnot@asu.edu