Privacy: Google Buzz (kill)?

Many have spoken out about how Google Buzz handles users' contact lists. Here's how to stay on top of what you share.

Google Buzz screengrab
Google Buzz's hype led many to click through the sign-up screens without reading the fine print. Now some are finding they're not thrilled with how much of their personal information is shared.

Google Buzz launched in a cloud of hype earlier this week – a social network from Google! Integrated right into GMail! It already knows your friends!

That last bit, dubbed "Autofollow" by Google, is meant as a convenience but is getting some tough scrutiny today. Rolled out over the last few days to all of GMail's users, Google Buzz presents itself as an option when a user signs into GMail. "

What's the big deal?

The majority of the concern comes as people discover that, through some less-than-careful clicking, they've authorized Google to publish a list of the people they're following on Buzz – and thus the people with whom they frequently chat and exchange emails.

But isn't that the nature of social networks – sharing connections? Ah, but here's the difference: with Facebook and other social networks, the public connections people make are intentional and open; they're initiated and approved by both parties. Google Buzz's Autofollow substitutes that interaction with an algorithm.

Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson was one of the first to sound the alarm (and he used all-caps, so you know he's alarmed). He argues that Autofollow could compromise journalists' anonymous sources, expose marital infidelity, or uncover hidden business dealings. While none of those scenarios may apply to you, it's a good idea to keep an eye on what you're sharing with the world.

Buzz not for you? The easiest way to avoid all of this is not to enable Buzz in the first place, or to scroll to the bottom of any Buzz page and click the "Turn off Buzz" link. For a less nuclear approach, users can go into their Google Profile page settings and uncheck the box (it's checked by default) labeled "Display the list of people I'm following and people following me."

Want to use Buzz, but not thrilled that that creepy guy from high school found you and is following your updates? Clicking on his name in your list of followers brings up a dialog where you can block him.

And though part of Google's vision is that "buzzes" get released to the world (and sometimes linked to a physical place) it's also possible to keep things private and send individual buzzes just to select groups – just move the buzz's slider from public to private.


What's your take? Are you going to clamp down on your following and follower lists? Will you use Buzz at all? Leave a comment, and keep up with the latest by following us on Twitter.

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