April 04, 2010

Google Buzz to Users: Do You Know What You're Doing?

In the company's continued efforts to reduce the impact rising from the initial confusion around Google Buzz controls and transparency following the social network's initial launch in early February, which saw many claiming privacy breaches or unsavory connections related to the initial autofollow feature, Google will ask all Buzz users to reconfirm their settings tomorrow when they enter Buzz. This move, albeit a minor one, is likely another requirement to get the network's house in order after taking numerous body blows in the press - which have helped to sully Buzz's reputation and cloud its success to date.

The settings, which are already available in the Buzz section of Gmail settings, as highlighted in mid-February, ask you to confirm:
  1. Who you are following
  2. Those who are following you
  3. If the connections can be displayed
  4. How many sites you have connected to Buzz
The changes come amid the resurfacing of stories around undesired visibility of connections, labeled as "privacy flaws", and the news that congressional representatives are asking the FTC to investigate Buzz for allegedly exposing private information from Gmail to outsiders.

All the bad news, which hasn't seemed to ebb in the two months since the service debuted, has often unfortunately overshadowed the very capabilities of that network and its activity - and has made it hard for Google, a company with assumed tremendous resources, to compete more directly with Facebook and other social sites. In a note from Google's PR team tonight, they promise the setting confirmation screens will roll out gradually to users throughout the day, and a post summarizing the move will likely appear Monday afternoon. They also promise more updates in the future through a number of Google channels including their own Buzz (of course), and on their YouTube account.

In my opinion, many of the problems have arisen from standard Gmail users who had Buzz enabled, but either ignored the network or were unfamiliar with it. The promise is to show this screen upon entering Buzz, but I believe it would be even more transparent and effective to show this announcement to all Gmail users - regardless of their Buzz history. That's a big step indeed, but one that could go beyond the series of small steps the Buzz team has had to make to step away from the brink. I have sent an e-mail to their PR team to ask if that is planned.

I know who I am connected to and what I am sharing. You can find me on Buzz here: http://www.google.com/profiles/louisgray.

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