Privacy and Google Buzz– Hiding Followers/Following

Google Buzz is the hip new thing, and is being met with a mixture of puzzlement over its function and outrage over its perceived privacy problems.  Things are hopefully being fixed but for the moment, the big issue is the viability of the  following/follower lists.

The whole thing is tricky to follow when you get down to the whole opt-in/opt-out social network function, so I made a couple of examples.

In the ideal world, this is how it should work.

Famous rock star and social activist Zoe has a Buzz feed.  Dave and Sue are huge fans of Zoe and want to know whom Zoe listens to, so they check out Zoe’s Following list and find some cool and interesting folks.

It is kind of like Twitter, you might say, and people follow other people on Twitter all the time, right?  The big problem is, Buzz makes your contacts and their emails addresses into an ad-hoc public social network–whether you want them to or not.  Buzz starts with users automatically agreeing to share their data in an opt-out rather than opt-in privacy policy and setting users up with an automatically suggested list of followers.  I may email my boss or landlord a lot, that doesn’t mean I want to be their Buzz-Buddy.

Bob might not have a Google Profile set up or have activated his own Buzz; but if Alice has mailed him, chatted with him via Google Chat, or contacted Bob in some other way Carol, Charlie, and Dave could look at Alice’s Following list and see that Bob (and his email address) was there.  Alice also mails Isaac, and now his email address is out there for the world to see–the problem, Isaac is Alice’s twelve-year-old son.

In the online world email address are almost like the magical True Names of old.  Know someone’s user name and a world of data unlocks.  People leak a tremendous amount of data around online, and spilling the beans on an email address can lead to unpleasant side effects.  I’m not one to assume malice lurks everywhere, odds are nothing will happen.  However, it is possible something can happen.

Ultimately, I think Buzz can be useful, but for the moment, it needs a lot of work.

For the moment here is how to hide your followers/ Following.

If you do not want your contacts to be a matter of public record, you can hide your following/follower list by going to your Google Profile, choosing Edit Profile, and unchecking the Display the list of people I’m following and people following me box.

Some Helpful Links

If you want to chuck the whole thing here is how to turn it off.
Turning Buzz off

  1. Delete your Google profile. Here’s how.
  2. Block all of the people following you. Here’s how.
  3. Turn off Buzz at the bottom of Gmail. Here’s how.