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Fun With Google Buzz (And Your Privacy?)

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, February 11 2010

My first post to Google Buzz, the new social-networking service unveiled two days ago, was "Resistance is futile." It may well be that by integrating social sharing into your email stream, Google has produced yet one more free and compelling tool for managing the ever-increasing flow of news, information, gossip and trivia that we all swim in these days. I'm certainly enjoying observing how a seemingly modest shift in code and platform can open up new channels for communication new ways of seeing and using our social graphs.

But if you are a person who worries about your personal privacy, or work in a field like politics or journalism, where who you exchange emails with is potentially a sensitive subject, then take heed: Google Buzz takes the people who you most often email and exposes that list to anyone who wants to see who you "follow" and who "follows" you. Google may think they're doing you a favor by pre-populating your social network in this manner, but that's hardly true for everyone. Here's how they describe it in their privacy policy:

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.

If you are following someone who publicly displays their list of followers on their Google profile, then you will appear on that person's public list. Likewise, if someone is following you and displays the list of people they follow on their profile, then you will appear on that public list.

For argument's sake, this is not that different from seeing someone's list of "friends" on Facebook, but given that it is a default public setting, it's far more invasive. You can block users from seeing this information, but that requires an affirmative action on your part. Nicholas Carson of Business Insider has more on this here. Caveat emptor.

(Hat tip to Andrew Golis.)

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