Buzz is a social networking service offered by Google that is implemented into their email program, Gmail. Buzz was launched on the same day it was announced, on February 9th, at 11am to a discrete set of initial users in gmail, and slowly rolled out to all gmail users over the next several weeks. When Gmail users logged in after Buzz was launched, they were presented with a notification that appeared to give them two options: “Sweet! Check out Buzz” or “Nah, go to my inbox.” Regardless of which option the user selected, Google activated the account for its Buzz service.
The service had several design features which raised privacy concerns. First, once activated, Buzz automatically set gmail users to follow their most frequent “contacts” in Buzz. Also, once in the system, a user’s gmail account contacts were visible to a user’s followers in Buzz as a default setting, even if a user’s follower had no direct connection to the user’s contacts before. The result was that a user’s most “frequent” contacts (including their email addresses) were visible to the public. The service and its privacy flaws affected more than 37 million users, eliciting "thousands of complaints" from people whose email contacts had been shared with co-workers, spouses and ex-spouses, patients, students, or competitors.
The case raises fundamental questions about the degree to which personal information can be kept privately online--especially in social networks--and adds validity to fears about consolidating personal information in a corporation like Google.
- Miguel Helft, Critics Say Google Invades Privacy With New Service February 12, 2010.
- Sarah Kessler, Google Settles With FTC Over Buzz Privacy Issues March 30, 2011.