February 12, 2010
Google Buzz Kills Personal Privacy
Google Buzz, as introduced, is a privacy nightmare for users. There is a lack of information on how information is used and shared, there is also a lack of instruction for users on how to control their own information. Here's my short experience, the one I wish I outlined on Webcology yesterday. When I first opened Google Buzz, I saw that I was auto-following ten people. I was shocked to find my auto-follow list included a journalist who has once previously tried to scoop me, workers at a former client, an ex-girlfriend and stunningly, my ex-wife. These folks were part of my initial Buzz stream. I rejected most of them immediately while noting to myself rejection notices might be sent to those I rejected. I'm not entirely sure how Buzz made these connections but I am sure that most of them are ones I would rather be left in my shadows. I've always harbored the paranoid suspicion Google was tracking email connections but since that is sort of evil, chances are they wouldn't go there. Heaven knows I would if I was them but I've never claimed to consistently opt against evil. The data available is simply too fascinating not to if you have the chance. The most unimpressive aspect of Google Buzz is that the connections Google perceived are so old. Many of them come from a part of my life I moved beyond almost a decade ago. I have an extremely open life. I feel personally secure about my digital footprint and have cleared the majority of memorable skeletons from the closet of my personal life by either making those skeletons public knowledge or disavowing the vices and communities that created them in the first place. Nevertheless, given the nature of social networks, the potential of exposure of a lot of information about my life to others is inevitable. Given the lack of control granted by Google or personal permission granted to Google by me, I'm shutting Buzz off before it does me damage. Clearly it can cause me professional headaches and personal heartaches. I need neither. For the record, none of my sources appear to have been exposed but they easily could have been. That very much concerns me as I've promised perpetual anonymity to more than a few of them. As for my ex-wife, I think she's a wonderful person. She and I have no problems with each other, at least none I am aware of. Though either of us would be happy to have a friendly conversation with the other, neither of us really want to know about the others day to day life. We've both moved on, and I suspect both of us would agree that is a very good thing. For the most part, I gave up worrying about personal privacy sometime between the rise of the security-state after 9/11/01 and 8/19/04, the date of Google's I.P.O.. Even so, Google Buzz has left me with a bitter taste and a desire to migrate my email usage away from the convenient but privacy porous Gmail system. Google gives you a way to turn Buzz off. Scroll down to the bottom of your Gmail page. A small link on the second line from the bottom in very fine print reads, "Turn Off Buzz". If you care about your personal privacy, do it now.