Google Apologizes for Buzz Privacy Issues

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Google has responded to anger over its Buzz social network with an apology and second round of privacy-related changes.

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 realized that we didn't get everything quite right," wrote Todd Jackson, Product Manager, Gmail and Google Buzz 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."

I've already written that Google needs to temper its engineering mindset and improve its "people skills." 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 e-mail 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: 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.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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