The huge privacy flaw in Google Buzz (and how to fix it)
Google has decided that it wants to join the social network revolution — with Google Buzz. Google kicked me out of Gmail today, and to sign back in, I had to upload Buzz. The buzz so far about Google’s attempt to usurp power from Facebook and Twitter has been good.
Honestly, the idea of signing up for yet another social network makes me want to throw my computer out the window, curl up in a little ball, and cry… without including any of that in a status update anywhere. But it’s Google, so I know it’s the next big thing. I don’t want to be left behind.
Except that Nicholas Carlson has discovered a huge privacy flaw. The default list when you sign up is basically all those you communicate with most frequently. From Business Insider via Stephen Kline:
When you first go into Google Buzz, it automatically sets you up with followers and people to follow. A Google spokesperson tells us these people are chosen based on whom the users emails and chats with most using Gmail.
The problem is that — by default — the people you follow and the people that follow you are made public to anyone who looks at your profile.
In other words, before you change any settings in Google Buzz, someone could go into your profile and see who are the people you email and chat with most.
Carlson points out that wives may discover their husbands’ mistresses and bosses may see that their employees are emailing competitors. I looked through my list, and it’s everyone on Gmail whom I have emailed frequently over the last few months: employers, friends, my anonymous sources for news, boyfriends — current and former, family members, among others.
I don’t want the world to see that list…
Carlson recommends simply going into your profile and unfollowing anyone that would embarrass you, out you, or get you fired.
But I don’t want to unfollow people. I want to make the list private. I’m happy to tell you there is a way to do that, but Google has not made it very intuitive.
If you go to the Google Buzz privacy page, it tells you:
When you first enter Google Buzz, to make the startup experience easier, we may automatically select people for you to follow based on the people you email and chat with most. Similarly, we may also suggest to others that they automatically follow you. You can review and edit the list of people you follow and block people from following you.
Your name, photo, and the list of people you follow and people following you will be displayed on your Google profile, which is publicly searchable on the Web. You may opt out of displaying the list of people following you and who you’re following on your profile.
That seems like a natural spot to have a link to the page where you opt out. But no.
After some frantic searching, I found the spot. You have to go to your Google profiles page, and uncheck this little box:
I flipped out for about a half hour before I found this. My friend, Sophia, who first mentioned to me that you could see everyone’s followers, got to listen to me rant and rave about lawyers being fired for being my tipsters at Above the Law when their law firm PR people took a look at my list.
Once I found out how to make the list private, I became a lot calmer.
Another thing that made me feel better: as of 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, I am more popular than Ashton Kutcher:
Yes! Ten more followers than AplusK– w00t.
This privacy thing won’t be as much of an issue once everyone is on Buzz, and our followers/following lists became as impersonal as our Facebook friend lists. But initially, the Buzz friends list is an intimate look into our lives and the people we’re closest to. And it’s really uncool that Google forced us into it with so little warning.
Google seemed to dive into social networking rapidly (perhaps taking advantage of the fact that we’re all trapped indoors thanks to the snow?). It’s obviously Google’s response to Facebook. The companies are at war for control of the Internetz, and it looks like our privacy is collateral damage.