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Schmidt defends Google Buzz despite tweaks aplenty

'No really bad stuff happens', proclaims Mountain View chief

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Google boss Eric Schmidt admitted yesterday that the company misjudged public reaction to its decision to automatically load its Twitter, Facebook-like Buzz service into Gmail.

Mountain View has been forced in the past few days to tinker with Buzz several times in an effort to offset an ugly tirade of criticism levelled at the ad broker, which failed to test its product in Google Labs first.

As we noted last week, the company’s aggressive, stealth-like approach with Buzz represented a notable change in how things are done at Google.

In the past the firm has tended to slowly simmer its products, giving Google the chance to monitor feedback and make necessary tweaks before releasing a public beta through its Google Labs channel.

Oddly, the search giant chose a different tack with Buzz only to be roundly whip-lashed into submission by many angry Gmail users who complained that the company had no regard for an individual’s web mail privacy.

At the Mobile World Conference yesterday, Schmidt told phone execs that Google and its many users got caught up in some ill communication over Buzz.

"I would say that we did not understand how to communicate Google Buzz and its privacy. There was a lot of confusion when it came out… [last] Tuesday, and people thought that somehow we were publishing their email addresses and private information, which was not true," he said.

"I think it was our fault that we did not communicate that fact very well, but the important thing is that no really bad stuff happens in the sense that nobody's personal information was disclosed."

Schmidt’s carefully-worded statement suggests that the brouhaha stirred up around Buzz last week was, at best, an overreaction.

However, the fact that Google responded so quickly to the gripes shows not only the depth of feeling against the firm’s strategy, but also highlights - as we noted previously - that the web kingpin’s suck-it-and-see approach represents a change in how Google operates.

And make no mistake, Schmidt doesn’t look set to renege on what some might interpret as the company’s much more aggressive path to world domination of the web. At the same time, some might also question the Google chief’s definition of “personal information”.

At launch, Buzz revealed people’s email addresses and most popular contacts by default, because Google had set the service to automatically opt-in its users. Worse still, the company didn’t prominently display “edit profile” options that would have allowed non-web savvy Gmailers to hide themselves from the creepy Buzz crowd if they wished to do so.

Earlier this week Google wheeled out Buzz product manager Todd Jackson to speak to a few softie news outlets about what went wrong, in an effort to draw a line under the whole sorry affair.

Unsurprisingly, Schmidt’s desire to talk about last week’s Buzz PR disaster in the past tense won’t stop privacy campaigners from griping about the service.

Just yesterday, The Electronic Frontier Foundation complained to US federal regulators about Google’s latest social networking service. The privacy group claimed Buzz violated federal consumer protection law.

Elsewhere, a commissioner at Canada’s privacy office has begun an investigation into Google Buzz.

"We understand the public concern about privacy issues related to Google Buzz," a spokeswoman told CBC news on Tuesday. "Our office is looking at the issue.”

Oh, and there's also a nasty geo location bug doing the rounds that could affect mobile phone users of Google Buzz.

A Google spokesman told The Register late yesterday that company security personnel are in the process of fixing it, and claimed there were no indications the flaw has been exploited - yet. ®

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