Google Buzz was a Google Facebook moment


Google Buzz

Google Buzz was launched recently, and unless you've been living under a rather large rock (presumably with a cavity big enough for your entire body) you would have seen the outpouring of criticism with regards to privacy — I'm saving the fact I'm not using the service because I don't see the need for it for another post! Speaking of which, when was the last time I logged into Google Wave?

Despite hardened cynics like Scott McNealy who famously quipped that "privacy is dead, get over it", and more recently Eric Schmidt with his latest outburst, people still expect a certain level of privacy online, and their expectations (for better or worse) aren't set by terms of service pages that nobody reads, but instead from what they expect.

People don't worry too much about privacy on Twitter (and IRC et al) because the entire point of the service is to be an open discussion forum and to see what other people are doing. People's expectations are: if you post it on Twitter, it's public knowledge. Aside from the fact it was less sleazy and it was designed by people who weren't recruited from Geocities, people moved to Facebook from MySpace for the added privacy, so friends could only see what they were doing.

Facebook blew it, could Google dodge the bullet?

The problem is, Facebook blew it. Their dodgy practise of changing their terms of service every five minutes, allowing third party applications ridiculous levels of access to private data (if not through you then through your friends), and their latest blunders with altering the privacy settings to public for people who'd never changed said settings (the very people they know they can get away with it with) have meant virtually no tech savvy people trust Facebook any more. Once trust like that is lost, it's lost for good. If it weren't for the fact most of my high school friends are on it and use it to contact me I'd delete my account today; I'm already in the process of stripping it bare of anything.

Google Buzz is this defining watershed moment for Google. Unlike Twitter and MySpace where the expectation was everything was open, people expect their email accounts to be private, even moreso than their Facebook profiles. Google Buzz publishing your most emailed friends is completely unacceptable and I think represents one of the biggest breaches of trust online that I can remember.

Uhhh…… Ruben, just turn it off lolz !!!1!1!one!!

Then there are well meaning people who say things like this:

@Rubenerd You can just ‘turn off buzz’ down the bottom.

Unfortunately, no, that's not true at all. Even if you do disable Google Buzz, your unwittingly shared content and people lists still exist, hence the controversy. For some people they didn't even accept the invitation for the service, it was simply turned on. I side with the Microsoft-ians on this one: If Microsoft pulled a stunt like this back when they still had relevance they would have been hit by hundreds of lawsuits left right and centre before lunch. That reminds me, the sushi I bought from the supermarket an hour ago is probably chilled enough to eat now, I'm hungry.

Fortunately it seems Google has got the message and people have started apologising. I'd like to chalk this huge blunder up to negligence, but it's hard for me to accept a company with such resources and talent wouldn't have figured out such a service would cause concerns.

In the meantime I've been a Gmail user since 2004, but I've decided to start trialling my own hosted email again. I'm a guy just starting out in this industry so I should be eating this stuff up, but this whole notion of cloud computing is really starting to scare me. Perhaps I shouldn't have had three cups of coffee on an empty stomach, I've got the jitters.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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