Modified controls give Buzz users better privacy options

As I pointed out in my previous post, there has been quite a bit of concern about Google Buzz’s defaults and their implications for users’ privacy. Fortunately the Gmail team (Buzz is part of Gmail) has been pretty responsive and has made a series of changes to Buzz in the few days since its launch. The Gmail team published a post on 13 February 2010 announcing further changes to how Buzz operates. The first change affects the auto-following behaviour many people are/were concerned about:

First, auto-following. With Google Buzz, we wanted to make the getting started experience as quick and easy as possible, so that you wouldn’t have to manually peck out your social network from scratch. However, many people just wanted to check out Buzz and see if it would be useful to them, and were not happy that they were already set up to follow people. This created a great deal of concern and led people to think that Buzz had automatically displayed the people they were following to the world before they created a profile.

On Thursday, after hearing that people thought the checkbox for choosing not to display this information publicly was too hard to find, we made this option more prominent. But that was clearly not enough. So starting this week, instead of an auto-follow model in which Buzz automatically sets you up to follow the people you email and chat with most, we’re moving to an auto-suggest model. You won’t be set up to follow anyone until you have reviewed the suggestions and clicked “Follow selected people and start using Buzz.”

Gmail contacts.pngThis change will affect new users as well as existing users who will be shown a similar set of options and given another opportunity to confirm the people they are following. Other changes include optional connections with Picasa and Google Reader (despite those services only feeding public content items) and a new Buzz tab in Gmail’s settings which will give users another way to limit friend list displays, Buzz’s visibility in Gmail and even an option to disable Buzz completely. When it comes to restricting access to your stream to specific people, you should take advantage of contact groups in Gmail’s contacts.

This method still requires you to set up your contacts lists or groups to take advantage of them but you can specify which groups of people can receive your Buzz updates. One way you would limit who receives your posts is by making your posts “Private” in Buzz and selecting specific contact groups. I haven’t quite set up my contacts lists completely but here is an example:

Private Buzz posting.png

What is not immediately apparent is how to block existing followers or set default post publicity/privacy levels if you are already using Buzz. When it comes to blocking existing followers, the option to block existing followers is accessible through the “XX followers” link (note the checkbox at the bottom that affects follower lists visibility):

Buzz - block followers.png

The changes do address many of the concerns raised about Buzz but their benefits for existing users may be somewhat limited. New users can look forward to a very different initial experience with Buzz and far more control over their stream’s privacy (or publicity, for that matter) and who can view their content. We’ve seen a number of changes in the last few days and it is clear that Buzz, like many early-stage Google products, is a work in progress. We will likely see further improvements and enhancements as Buzz becomes available to more and more users and is extended to Google Apps. At that point the product becomes a sort of enterprise product as it becomes available to Google Apps business users.

If you are interested in using Buzz, take the time to explore the various privacy settings and controls and make sure they are set to levels you are comfortable with. It will be worth it going forward if you decide to use Buzz as an extension of your social presence.

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