[] by Jason Hiner: Why Google Buzz confirmed our two worst fears about Google.

Google is not accustomed to being mistrusted by users and flogged by the tech press, but that’s exactly what’s happened to the search engine giant in recent weeks since the release of its new Google Buzz social media product.

Companies like Microsoft, and to a lesser extent Apple, are used to releasing new products and seeing them publicly attacked and belittled. Those two companies are typically patient enough to take feedback, integrate it into the product cycle, and then wait for users to get on board.

Google, on the other hand, has been something of a golden child in the tech world in the past decade. Its search engine has become the default home page of the Internet, and the company’s focus on engineering over profits has endeared it to users around the world.

However, as I suggested in my article How Google became the George Washington of the Internet, Google’s joy ride with users could be coming to end. In fact, it may have officially happened with the introduction of Google Buzz. We could look back at this product launch as the turning point of Google losing its innocence.

So, what’s the big deal about Buzz? Here are the two reasons why Google’s actions with Buzz have raised so many eyebrows and confirmed some of our darkest fears about Google.

1. They’d use our data in ways we didn’t authorize - Google is sitting on the largest collection of personal information on the planet (and very likely, the largest in the history of the planet). Google knows far more about you than the government does, for example. As a result, users tacitly trust Google to only use their information in ways they explicitly need for accessing Google services such as search and email.

The fear has always been that Google would use our personal information in other ways that we never authorized. Google has tried to assuage these concerns with its privacy policy in which it states that it anonymizes “IP addresses after 9 months and cookies in our search engine logs after 18 months.”

When Google Buzz first launched, it surprised users by turning their contacts that they emailed most often in Gmail into Google Buzz friends. By default, this list of friends was exposed to the world through the person’s Google Profile and these automatic friends were also treated to access to the person’s Google Reader, exposing the stuff they were reading.

These kinds of surprises were what sent a lot of people (including yours truly) looking for ways to turn off Google Buzz within a few hours of it going live.

2. They’d eventually get careless about privacy procedures - In creating the automatic friends list in Buzz, Google was attempting to streamline the process of setting up a new social media site. The product was trying to be helpful and keep users from needing to look up and add their friends on yet another social network.

That was a laudable goal, but it’s shocking that no one at Google sensed the massive privacy implications of this move since it was tied into a public-facing profile. For many people, that Google account tied to Gmail and other private services was not one that they wanted to expose out in the wild. It was simply too closely connected to valuable data.

Google claimed to have tested Buzz internally leading up to the launch, so it’s surprising that no one picked up on the contact issue and that the feature that went live. Of course, it got rolled back by Google programmers after an international outcry from users.

Beyond the bit about anonymizing data, Google has never divulged many details about its internal policies for protecting user privacy. Google’s promise to users has always been something like: “Trust us. We’ll always keep the needs of users as our top priority.”

However, in the process of trying to make users the top priority and create a better user experience, Google was extremely careless about the overall privacy implications of Buzz. That naturally makes me wonder how serious they are about privacy in general and it makes me question the policies and procedures Google has in place to protect privacy.

Bottom line - As part of the Google Buzz announcement the company stated that an enterprise version of Buzz would be available later this year. If Google can’t win over consumers and techies to Wave, then it’s very unlikely to win over the much more security-conscious enterprise.

THE AUTHOR: Jason Hiner is the Editor in Chief of TechRepublic. Previously, he worked as an IT Manager in the health care industry. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and at




Why Google Buzz will be a hit

FEBRUARY 17, 2010 - Mashable founder Pete Cashmore says Google Buzz will benefit from people already using Gmail. Google Buzz is not original but should be moderate success. Gmail, like Facebook, has a built-in advantage with the millions who use it

(CNN) -- Google Buzz, Google's new social networking service announced this week, isn't particularly original.

Just like Facebook and Twitter, it lets you share links, updates and media with friends. Even so, it'll probably be a moderate success.

Google Buzz is perhaps the most generic "social sharing" service launched to date. Users can enable the service in their Gmail accounts to share status updates, photos, videos and more with the group of people they e-mail most often.

Friends can also comment on these updates or "like" them to express approval.

There isn't a great deal of innovation here; early adopters will remember FriendFeed, an identical service acquired by Facebook last year.

While FriendFeed built a strong technology platform with an advanced search engine, it failed to achieve significant mainstream success. The site's features are instead being integrated into Facebook, where FriendFeed's talented engineers and Facebook's massive reach (more than 400 million users at last count) combine for maximum effect.

Good technology has value, but leading social networks require "network effects." Facebook is infinitely more valuable because all your friends are on it.

Facebook has leveraged this "critical mass" of users to stay ahead of new rivals, too. Why visit Twitter, you may ask, when Facebook has continually extended its feature set to keep up with its less popular competitor?

The story of social networks is in fact a story about network effects: How can a service reach a point at which there are enough users and content to be useful?

YouTube achieved this trick by providing embedded videos for MySpace and blogs, siphoning off members along the way. MySpace eventually chose to block YouTube links and build a rival video service, but the move came much too late to halt YouTube's rise.

Photobucket, meanwhile, became one of the world's largest photo sites by providing photo hosting to MySpace users; MySpace parent Fox Interactive Media (now News Corp. Digital Media) acquired the service in 2007.

There are arguably better video sites than YouTube and better photo hosts than Photobucket, but network effects tend to trump technical prowess in the social networking realm.

Google Buzz certainly isn't groundbreaking, but it will achieve critical mass virtually overnight. Thanks to integration with Gmail, the new tool is in the eye-line of the millions of users who obsessively check their inboxes for new mail. ComScore pegged Gmail at 176.5 million unique visitors in December.

What's more, Google Buzz uses data about those you frequently e-mail to automatically build a social network for you. Gone are the challenges of critical mass faced by virtually every new social networking service. In Google Buzz, your address book is your network.

Two forces are at work here, then: the immediate utility of a social service pre-populated with people you know, combined with the habitual behaviors associated with checking your email throughout the day.

A stream of fresh content from people you care about, served up on a site you visit every day, may prove to be an irresistible attraction -- although perhaps not a novel one.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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