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Google apologises for Buzz privacy gaffes

Google BuzzGoogle has responded to anger over its Google Buzz social network with an apology and a second round of privacy-related changes. Buzz will no longer automatically connect users based on email and chat usage.

The latest move replaces the controversial 'auto-follow' feature with something Google calls 'auto-suggest'.

Saturday's revision was the second major change to Buzz since the service was introduced last Tuesday. Since then, Google had been besieged by complaints that Buzz endangers user privacy.

"We quickly realised that we didn't get everything quite right," wrote Gmail and Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson on the company's Official Gmail Blog.

"We're very sorry for the concern we've caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We'll continue to do so."

Must do better

I've already written that Google needs to temper its engineering mindset. It apparently never occurred to Google that users might not want their lists of followers and who they are following revealed to the world.

As a result of the continued complaints, Google said Buzz will no longer automatically connect users based on their email and chat usage. Instead, the service will offer a list of suggested connections for the new user to accept or reject.

"For the tens of millions of you who have already started using Buzz, over the next couple weeks we'll be showing you a similar version of this new start-up experience to give you a second chance to review and confirm the people you're following," Jackson wrote.

Also new will be a Buzz tab in Gmail settings, where users can disable Buzz complete if they choose. There is also a setting that permits the user to hide their following and followers lists from their Google profile. Buzz also no longer connects to the user's Picasa album or Google Reader shared items.

Jackson said the latest changes would be implemented over a period of "several days."

On Thursday, responding to immediate criticism of the service, Google made it easier for users to hide their following and followers lists, which some complained could be used by outsiders to determine the relationships between Buzz users.

My take is that these changes are welcome, but show only that Google will react to a public hammering. Whether Google has actually learned from its Buzz experience and will head off future privacy issues must remain to be seen. We can only hope.

See also:

Google Buzz review

Google Buzz needs better people skills

Google tweaks Buzz privacy settings

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