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Google coughs to PR gaffe with privacy-lite Buzz

But keeps Twitterbook service as auto opt-in

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Google has tweaked some settings in Gmail Buzz following a huge privacy backlash against Mountain View’s latest social networking effort.

The company’s decision to automatically opt every Gmail account into Buzz once those users accepted a very simple invite to the Twitter-Facebook-like service when logging into their web mail, left many of us complaining that contact lists and email addresses had been given away too cheaply.

“We've had plenty of feature requests, and some direct feedback. In particular there's been concern from some people who thought their contacts were being made public without their knowledge (in particular the lists of people they follow, and the people following them),” noted Google’s Buzz product manager Todd Jackson in a blog post late yesterday.

“In addition, others felt they had too little control over who could follow them and were upset that they lacked the ability to block people who didn't yet have public profiles from following them.”

Google, however, hasn’t agreed to go so far as to automatically opt its 176 million Gmailers out of Buzz. Instead it will make the privacy implications of setting up a profile on the service a little bit clearer for its users by dropping a notification slap-bang in the middle of the controversial, stealth-like add-on.

“We heard from people that the checkbox for choosing not to display this information was too hard to find, and based on this feedback, we've changed the notice to make it very clear. We will roll these changes out to all Gmail users later today,” said Jackson.

Google has also added a “Block” feature into the list of people following a Buzz profile.

“Previously, you were only able to block people from following you after they had created a public profile. Now, you can block anyone, regardless of whether or not they've already created profiles for themselves,” Jackson said.

The ad broker said it would provide “more clarity” on which followers/people a user can see via their public profile.

In effect, Google has very quickly responded to an avalanche of criticism by making small but useful changes to Buzz. But it leaves us wondering why the firm decided to roll out the tech without first testing it through Google Labs, as we noted yesterday. At least that way, a loyal community would have helped the firm iron out any gob-smackingly obvious privacy concerns right off the bat.

It also prompts the question, was Google chancing its arm by dropping a Buzz bomb on its Gmail users? Because after all, opting for a suck-it-and-see attitude on the same day that MacWorld kicked off was just a coincidence, right?

Either way, we at Vulture Towers have been struck down with tinnitus right about now. ®

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