There has certainly been plenty of articles making the rounds of tech news sites covering Google Buzz, so I don’t feel like I need to cover the topic of what it is and what its purpose is. More interesting to me, however, is the privacy concerns, security issues, and backlash that Google is receiving. After all the hype of Google Wave died down and resulted in a hardly used, clunky service, Google Buzz may be headed the same direction. I wouldn’t describe myself as a vested interest as I disabled Buzz shortly after investigating it and being annoyed by its lack of customization and frequent messages. More like Google BuZzz… Amirite? So let’s get back to the more interesting security and privacy matters that others are concerned about and you might have reason to interested in as well.
Google Buzz has been hit with criticism from just about every angle, but the security and privacy issues are the ones to be concerned about for a feature that was turned on by default for all Gmail accounts. Google didn’t even turn on https connections by default until they were recently victims to the infamous Chinese cyber-attack. The initial reaction of criticism seems to be a new one for Google, but they may have to get used to it. Here are some examples of the concerns raised by Google Buzz:
Spammers start using Google Buzz within 2 days of its launch. The first known message is a link to a page about quitting smoking. It’s able to spread quickly thanks to its auto-following feature.
Malware by the name of W32/Zuggie-A starts spreading along Google Buzz also within that 2 day window. This installed a Firefox extension and clicked all ads whenever you visited any of five popular search engines.
Google is given a big FU by one user who ran into the problem of all her Google Reader shared items and comments between her and her boyfriend automatically shared with her abusive ex-husband. The blog has since been protected but you can find excerpts around the web.
This comedic approach shows Google Buzz puts words in people’s mouths. It might only be a joke, but it’s certainly an unexplained feature as all of Google Buzz was forced into people’s e-mail with little explanation and no configuration options (at that point).
A Cross-Site Scripting vulnerability in Google Buzz allowed malicious individuals to exploit it and even reveal the account holders geographic location. The vulnerability has since been addressed.
Geolocation reporting goes a step further like the Foursquare app and it may be making your home more susceptible to a robbery. The site PleaseRobMe.com was created to open the eyes of individuals that posting all of the information that they currently do to the web and social networking may be making themselves very vulnerable. Google Buzz, Foursquare, and Hopscotch can report your location based on GPS to Google Buzz or Twitter. A smart thief might make use of this information to find out when you’re not at home.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC, which has me wondering if they came up with the name or the acronym first) filed a complaint with the FTC against Google because of Google Buzz privacy issues. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also voiced its negative opinion on the Google Privacy model.
A class action suit is filed against Google in regards to Google Buzz due to privacy concerns. Critics say Buzz may have “aided stalkers, jeopardize journalist sources, or hinted at affairs”. The suit seeks to prevent the company from taking similar actions in the future and an undisclosed amount of money.
How to Say No Thanks
In response to the flurry of criticism, Google finally implemented settings to allow some customization and control. Unfortunately it still didn’t allow the customization I wanted, (like not filling my inbox with every single comment), so I have chosen to disable Google Buzz. You can find Google Buzz’s settings under its own tab in Gmail settings. There they have a handy link to disable Google Buzz.
If you click that link, you’ll be given a confirmation window to delete your Google profile and any Google Buzz posts you have made (if any). Click Yes to continue.
If you don’t want to completely delete your profile, you can turn off Google Buzz within Gmail by clicking a link ‘Turn off Buzz’ at the bottom of any Gmail window.