Google has just decided that it can make public the entire list of people you have corresponded with.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Google lunacy: You MUST turn off Buzz for privacy

Feb. 11, 2010
Note: Google changed the Buzz setup to a less dangerous default a day after this complaint was posted. Here is more info.

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Blog item posted Feb. 11, 2010

   Google has demonstrated that it can't be trusted with your personal affairs.
   If, like millions of others, you have a Gmail account, Google has just decided that it can make public the entire list of people you have corresponded with. Google is doing this through a new feature called Buzz. It is automatically turned on. In other words, if you do nothing, all the spy features of Buzz -- letting anyone find out whom you've written to, as if that information wasn't ever meant to be private -- are turned on and active.
   Repeat: In this insane feature, Google automatically makes your e-mail correspondence list public. This is unthinkable. YOU have to do something about it NOW. Go to your Gmail page and scroll to the bottom. You will see some words in fine print. They are links to options you have and information you can look up. What you are looking for is Turn Off Buzz. Click the "Turn Off Buzz" link to turn off this feature.
   Why should you do this? Here's part of a blog by Molly Wood:
   When you visit Google Buzz, you're invited to "Try Buzz in Gmail," with "no setup needed." But the no-setup thing isn't the bonus you might be led to believe. First, you automatically follow everyone in your Gmail contact list, and that information is publicly available in your profile, by default, to everyone who visits your profile. It's available with helpful "follow" links too--wow, you can expand your Buzz network so fast by harvesting the personal contact lists of other people! To hide the list of followers/followees from your profile page, you have to click Edit Profile and uncheck the box next to Display the list of people I'm following and people following me. Why that option isn't obvious on the Buzz page itself--well, decide for yourself. On top of that, let's say you've customized your Google profile page with the vanity URL Google helpfully offers at the bottom of the page. Well, that'd be your e-mail handle. Anytime anyone does an @ reply to you, they've broadcast your e-mail address to the world.
   Now, I know Gmail is in fairly wide use in business environments, but it's also most commonly used for personal e-mail. We've gotten comfortable with handing out usernames of all stripes across social networks, but the personal e-mail address used to be somewhat sacred--until Google Buzz came along. Plus, and maybe this is specious, but it really bugged me: when I enabled Google Buzz, it was using a photo on my personal Buzz page (not my profile or anything) that I'd taken on my Droid but hadn't ever uploaded. Why? And why that photo? And--what? That's just creepy as hell. But it's less creepy than the mobile privacy. I will say, thank goodness, at least Google Buzz doesn't opt you in to this creepiest feature of all: revealing your location by exact address. When you first visit the mobile app on your Android phone and attempt to post something, you'll be asked whether you want to Share Location or Decline.
   The "Remember this Preference" box is prechecked too, so be sure you're ready to have everyone know right where you are, whenever you post to Buzz. At minimum, uncheck the Remember button so you can decide whether to reveal your location post by post. No offense, but please don't come visit me. I'm sure that a lot of Foursquare fans will happily share away. But Buzz also displays buzzes from people near your location--and identifies them, as well--by exact address. And there are no preferences in the Android app--no way, near as I can tell--to choose to broadcast only to the list of people you follow or a group you've established, as you can in the Web interface. So be equally prepared for everyone around you to know who you are and where you are when you post to Buzz from your phone.
   Yeah, no, really. I'm totally not making this up. Now, before you get your angry Buzz on, yes. I know. I know I can unfollow people to protect their privacy (and mine). I know I can use an annoying string of numbers instead of my username to protect my e-mail address. I know I don't have to enable location awareness. I know I can, as I mentioned, post privately and not publicly. But none of that is the default, meaning that when I sign up for Google Buzz, assuming that I even know that this massive overshare is about to happen, all of those "features" will have to be turned off, one by one, in a confusing and vaguely annoying interface, and I can't do it on my phone. And that is crap.
   I know Google's modus operandi is that it is coming to us from the future--the future where there are no applications, there is only the Web, there's no need for printer drivers, and there's no expectation of privacy when it comes to taking pictures of your house for all to see, or you scratching your bum on the street. And wow, what a brave new world that is. But I do have an expectation of privacy when it comes to my e-mail, and I think that even in this age of social-networking TMI, most people still think of e-mail as a safe place for speaking privately with friends and family. And for Google to come along and broadcast that network to the world without asking first--and force you to turn it off after the fact--is, I think, both shocking and unacceptable.