Google Buzz, bad start, privacy

Google recently launched its new product, Google Buzz. There is no denying that it attempts to compete with Facebook and one has to say Google has good arguments there. Obviously, with the number of services Google provide to people, it makes a big amount of information to share. Interconnect everything, give it a name stolen from your competitor Yahoo!, add a cool Google logo and here you have Buzz.

And I have to say that, even if it is far from perfect and finished, it is not so bad technically. Its ability to centralize external data empowers this channel of sharing information (and add to that open APIs, it has a big potential).

But however, the buzz was not so much about technical qualities, but more about a social, even moral issue: privacy. It is outstanding to see how far Google has failed the start of Buzz. Privacy issues were raised very early, and for very good reasons. Making the followers list public was quite an irresponsible move, since it nearly meant making public the names of people to whom you send the more emails (in private).

The first consequences followed (see F*ck you, Google, the article by the Guardian.)

Google is widely responsible for that. Emails are part of private correspondence. Google would never have published the recipients of your emails. Although that’s what they did without noticing with Buzz lists (plus with all the content they automatically shared, e.g. from Google Reader.)

Wired has created an interesting survey: “What Buzzeth you About Google Buzz?”.

Nevertheless, I would like to remind something… including about this very answer (survey top #2 answer):

Breach of Trust
by Anonymous

I am a lawyer. The names of clients, witnesses, investigators, and expert witnesses are all confidential, and Google just breached the trust that my clients have in me to keep ALL of their information confidential. I signed up for email. Not social networking. We can no longer trust Google. They do not appreciate our privacy. Lawyers must immediately cease using Google provided services since they breach our client’s privacy.

First, this lawyer’s behaviour is very clumsy, if not irresponsible. When you have a moral (and professional) obligation to keep your conversations private, confidential and secure, you don’t give away this responsibility. But this lawyer did, by charging Google of this responsibility. Which reasons can explain that he could trust Google for that? What is the point of having all those laws about client-attorney secrecy, if the lasts give it away? It also reminds me of the story of this gun dealer from Belgium, busted easily by feds when Google gave his emails to the authorities.

I can admit that you can trust Gmail as your postman. In real life anyway you have to trust the guy who caries your message. However, you don’t give all your data to him, nor all the information, neither the whole responsibility of protecting your privacy. Trust means mutuality. Where is mutuality between you and big Google?

Second, mails and emails are one thing, all the information shared by Buzz are another. Once Buzz has centralized all the data Google can share about you, one suddenly wakes up and notices how much information he gave away. All this information is far from out of reach for Google, it is only a few clicks away, without you noticing, without even your control (or so little).

My opinion is that, on privacy concerns, Google’s nuisance power is only the power we, users, give to it, by giving away all our data and by giving up on protecting our own privacy (which is everyone’s responsibility).

Meanwhile, Facebook also goes on Google’s strategy. They launched their chat XMPP server, a big competitor for Google Talk. So, to be optimistic and positive, that make a lot more people using XMPP/Jabber, good news!

Translated from French: Google Buzz, départ manqué et vie privée.