Nicolas314

All my geeky stuff ends up here. Mostly Unix-related

Google Buzz Catastrophe

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Logged into my main Gmail account today, found out they had activated Google Buzz. No way to get past it: even if you do not want it you get it. So what do you do when you get a new toy? You try it of course!

I posted a message and got a couple of answers from friends so we started posting links, videos and images, said stupid things and exchanged brief personal news as if we were in a chat room. Little did I know how much damage this could cause…

I immediately noticed I had plenty of followers! I have friends! Gladly clicking away, everybody became a new buzz friend to help me share this new experience. That happened before we actually started our little chat. Only later when checking options and privacy settings did I find out that in my list of followers/followed appeared:

  • My former boss, my current boss
  • My former colleagues from previous jobs, my new colleagues
  • My ex-wife, my lawyer
  • Two ex-girlfriends who do (did) not know each other
  • My children

… meaning that everything we said now appears in all these people’s mailboxes. That also includes the stupid dirty jokes and some NSFW material that are definitely not adapted for kids. We thought we were having a private conversation, the default setting was “public” and here I was shouting stupid jokes to everybody I ever e-mailed to, including my own children.

Wait, it gets better: the default privacy options let your followers see all the people you follow. Since I clicked all the names I was offered, this basically means that everybody in my address book now has the address of everybody else in my address book. Now that everybody has everybody else’s private address, what prevents them from talking together, say about the person they both know? Do I really want my ex-boss and ex-colleagues to talk to people in my new job? My lawyer to talk to my ex-wife? My ex-girlfriends to discover about each other (too late, damage done)? And my kids to be cc’ed on all public discussions? How do I warn my buzz pals that my kids are cc’ed on their messages? Whatever we say and post is defaulted to go directly to their mailboxes!

I totally stepped into panic mode and disabled buzz altogether. Click the little link at the bottom of the page and (you think) you are done.

I certainly disabled it but the messages I posted were still there. I checked my kids’ mailboxes: the whole discussion was there in its eternal glory for them to see. Solution: re-activate buzz, delete posts one by one. I removed all people I followed, blocked all my followers (except some that cannot be blocked???) and de-activated buzz again. Damage control for now.

Time to go to Google’s privacy notes. This is scary:

  • If you appear in somebody’s list of followed people, you cannot remove your name from it
  • we may record information about your use of the product, such as the posts you like or comment on and the other users with whom you communicate

If you do not do anything illegal you should have nothing to hide, right?

Be prepared: anything you buzz about can be seen by absolutely anybody out there. It will be made searchable and will clearly be identified as written by you. All the dangers of Reply-to-all but extended to a totally public view searchable by Google.

Fuck you Google. I had fun with your Webmail but this is going too far and becoming dangerous for me.

Edit: Fri 12 Feb 2010 — Google seems to have reacted really fast on that one: see http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/millions-of-buzz-users-and-improvements.html. Now I can also block followers who do not have a public profile. The last thing I need to find now is how to prevent anybody from following me at all.

Edit: Sun 14 Feb 2010 — Seems there is no way to prevent somebody from following you. I blocked all of my followers, checked the option to prevent followers from seeing each other, and will regularly check if any other disastrous privacy setting kicked in. I really hate Google for pulling such a trick.

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Written by nicolas314

Friday 12 February 2010 at 1:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

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