Privacy Complaints Abound Over Google's Buzz

Google recently released the social networking program Buzz to compete with Facebook but there have been concerns about privacy. Google automatically signs up Gmail users for Buzz, rather than waiting for them to "opt in."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Google is moving into the world of social networking in a new application called Google Buzz. Naturally, there was a lot of buzz when Google first unveiled its new venture, and not all of it was good.

To chat about the launch and its controversy, we called Mario Armstrong, MORNING EDITION's tech guru.

Good morning.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Google announced its new creation, Buzz, last week, and for those who have not been following this closely, tell us a bit about Buzz and why Google is launching it?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, well, so first off, you know, they like you said, they launched this last week and it's kind of a new service that enables Gmail users - those users of Google's email service to share text, multimedia, images, video with your friends using that Gmail account as kind of the connecting point - which is significant because it made it instantly available to a lot of people. I mean several million people were instantly made available to this new service.

MONTAGNE: Well, yeah, and when Google first introduced it, it also came with howls of concern over privacy.

ARMSTRONG: Here was the problem, the problem was from Google's perspective, they wanted to make it easy for Gmail users to be able to instantly find other friends and other followers. So instead of making it an option to choose to do that, it was automatically done for you. So it wasnt created as an opt-in and it should have. It was more created as an opt-out. So, here's how the scenario played out; I opened up my Gmail inbox the day it was announced and instantly it had already shared me and who I frequently email with to others who wanted to follow me, and that was where the problem was. Maybe I dont want you Renee, to know all of the people that I've e-mail most.

MONTAGNE: Everybody youre in contact with.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, and not only that, the people that I also e-mail most frequently. So this wound is still fresh and people are still heated about this.

MONTAGNE: So over these last few days of controversy, what, in fact, has Google done?

ARMSTRONG: You know, Google has stepped up really quickly; although, I think it could've been a little faster, but they responded fast. And so what they have done is enabled people to remove certain problems. Like, number one, removing the instant followers situation which would, you know, instantly tell other people your email habits.

MONTAGNE: Do you think though, in the long run, that Google Buzz can compete with Facebook?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, that's a good question. Right now, Facebook has 400 million users and Gmail has about 176 million. If you look at the shear numbers alone its a long way to go. However, I'll say this; its a highly competitive age that we're in right now, especially when it looks at the social networks. And I think Google's perspective is that they wanted to also play in this space because of the search advertising business that they're also in.

But I do think that some people feel that the way that it was launched was just the wrong approach. However, I do think that a lot of people are fans of Google. Had this been someone like Microsoft, I think we would still be very, very boiling about this issue. But for some reason, Google has that appeal to a lot of people, that I think theyll get past this issue and move into, well, how can I actually use the service to better my life?

MONTAGNE: Mario, thanks very much. Glad to have you here with us again.

ARMSTRONG: Thanks for having me, Renee.

MONTAGNE: MORNING EDITION's technology commentator Mario Armstrong. He also host the radio show DIGITAL SPIN from Baltimore Public Radio station WEAA.

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