Google Updates Privacy Settings, But the Buzz is Still Off

Google Updates Privacy Settings, But the Buzz is Still Off

Google Buzz is in the news yet again, implementing more damage control for the spate of public concern and legal backlash that was set off by the fledgling social media network’s release earlier this year.

Integrated within Google’s highly popular Gmail email service, Buzz was intended as a rival for social media giants Facebook and Twitter. However, its launch was met with a cacophony of criticism from users, bloggers, journalists and consumer rights groups.

There were several glaring issues with the premiere version of Buzz, all centered around privacy. For example, Gmail users were automatically set to follow people in their contacts lists, without being asked permission first. These auto-added followers could access sensitive information, such as who else was on a user’s followers list and how often they communicated. And it was a needlessly complicated process to block them from being able to do so – if the user was even aware of the privacy loophole in the first place.

While Google did apologise and rectify the most conspicuous of these problems within two days of Buzz’s initial launch, its contrition was not enough to prevent a class-action lawsuit against Google, and a official complaint being lodged with America’s Federal Trade Commission. Members of the United States Congress have also called for an investigation into Google Buzz’s alleged mishandling of its users’ personal data.

Now, nearly two months after it was first rolled out, users of Buzz will for the first time be given a clear explanation of its privacy settings, and asked if they choose to accept or decline them.

However, it remains to be seen whether this belated consideration will have an impact on Buzz’s flagging popularity with users. Google’s official blog reported 9 million posts – or “buzzes” – being made on the new network within its first 56 hours. But Google’s own Insights For Search tool reveals that that brief surge of attention flatlined soon afterward.

It seems that people are simply not interested in Buzz. Even beyond its deficit of consumer trust, the reasons are not difficult to guess. Facebook and Twitter are so entrenched as the dominant forces in social media, any effort to entice its users away would be a steep uphill battle.

Besides that, Google does not seem to really be making the effort. Innovation is a trademark of the Google brand, but Buzz  is essentially a regurgitation of features developed by other social media platforms. Except for its integration with an established email service provider, Buzz brings nothing new to the table.

Development of Buzz remains ongoing, with more updates to follow. If Google can stay out of further legal trouble, and come up with even just one killer app to hook its Gmail users on Buzz, then the beleaguered network may finally stand a chance of getting a piece of the social media market share.

Until then, the buzz remains muted.

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