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Google Buzz leaves privacy concerns ringing in ears

Gmail sprouts Web 2.0 legs

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Scarily for those Gmailers who wish to keep their email addresses and contact lists behind private doors and away from the prying eyes of search engines, Buzz does its best to reverse that by very publicly revealing those details as soon as a user accepts the invite to try out the new service.

Google also adopts the simples approach by pointing out “no setup [is] needed”.

So what happens if you hook up to Buzz’s beating black heart? For a start, it makes your profile public by default. That means anyone can have a gander at your profile, view your personal contact list and quickly follow whomever they please.

To switch those functions off, users are required to edit their profile and uncheck the “Display my full name so I can be found in search” and “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me” boxes.

Google’s failure to set those features as an opt-out by default is worrying to say the least, especially from a company that continues to insist it “does no evil”.

Essentially, Mountain View has grabbed elements of Twitter and Facebook in carving out its very own Web2.0rhea vision. Sadly, rather than learn from their mistakes, the company has potted Buzz with gaping privacy holes that do little to reassure Gmail users that their inbox won’t be sabotaged by spammers.

Worse still, Google isn’t even ashamed to admit that, y’know, using Buzz via Gmail exposes details you might have once wanted to keep private to you and your list of contacts.

“To make it easier for people to find your profile, you can customise your URL with your Google email username," it said. "(Note this can make your Google email address publicly viewable.)

“This unique name will also be used in other links to your content on Google. To help others discover your profile, in some Google services contacts who know your email address will see a link to your profile.”

Google confirmed at the launch of Buzz earlier this week that it would integrate the naked and free data with Wave, its effort at realtime communication. It's not clear exactly how Mountain View will stitch the two together, however.

Buzz is ultimately Google's latest attempt to shepherd more people into Gmail. What's more worrying long term is what such a move means for the company's online email service. By sprouting Web 2.0 legs Gmail might just have lost some serious credibility. ®

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