3 Google Buzz Privacy Concerns


Google Buzz continues to make waves as the Gmail- and mobile device-based social networking platform reaches the masses this week.

Buzz takes one part Facebook, one part Twitter, one part YouTube and one part Flickr and blends it for a social networking platform lodged directly into Gmail. So far, Google Buzz has been receiving mixed praise. As with any new platform where people share information, however, privacy is a huge question. People post personal information, photos and other content to share with friends, not with the world. It's up to Google Buzz to keep that information to its intended recipients.

Early on, Google Buzz has come under scrutiny for lacking some fundamental privacy and security. Here are three areas Google Buzz needs to tighten up before users will be confident enough to make it their single social networking service:

1. Google Buzz automatically imports contacts and shows them as friends. One of Google Buzz's biggest selling points is its auto-follow feature, which automatically makes Buzz users friends with the people they communicate with most through Gmail -- if those people are also using Buzz, of course. However, Google Buzz has already come under fire over the auto-follow feature, PC World reported. Essentially, Buzz starts following those people and makes that list public, meaning strangers get a look at who Buzz users are in contact with. Not only that, but friends also get a look, raising a different concern altogether. "Imagine ... a wife discovering that her husband e-mails and chats with an old girlfriend," the Silicon Valley Insider noted. "Imagine a boss discovers a subordinate e-mails with executives at a competitor." In Google's defense, Buzz users can turn that feature off, though it is set as a default. Also, it only shares that information with other Buzz users who have set up profiles. Either way, it's information many Buzz users might not want to share.

2. Google Buzz grabs photos without a user uploading them. This one may be rare, but over at CNET Molly Wood discovered an interesting privacy hole in Google Buzz: It "appears to grab photos off my Android phone that I've never uploaded." According to Wood, when she enabled Google Buzz it automatically started using a photo on her personal Buzz page that she'd taken with her Google Android smartphone and never uploaded to Google Buzz. Let that be a warning to Buzz users that photos stored on their Android devices may very well be broadcast to friends and contacts, whether they like it or not.

3. Google Buzz can pinpoint and broadcast your exact location. Yes, Google Buzz is designed to keep friends and contacts connected and let them share content. But do users really want all of those contacts to know exactly where they are at all times, right down to the street number? With Buzz for mobile devices, it can do just that. When users visit the mobile app via Android, they are asked whether they want to share their location or not. That location can also be saved and remembered as a preference if users want. Essentially, the service reveals users' location every time they make a post. Forrester Research Analyst Augie Ray told eWeek.com, that an "area of concern may be the way Google's mobile app allows people to give permission to automatically report their location. That's the sort of 'set it once then forget it' setting that can catch the casual user unaware." Users can choose not to broadcast their locations, but as we've learned, any extra step can be overlooked.