Google grovels over Buzz privacy issues

Google’s made some swift changes to its social networking application Buzz, in an attempt to allay privacy concerns.

The service uses a user’s address book to create an instant social network. But while it was possible to opt out, the feature raaised fears over privacy.

“If you took the default options and didn’t opt-out or edit this list during profile creation, the list becomes part of your profile. Since who you email with frequently can often be private information  – reporters and sources, doctors and patients, former significant others, etc – making this list public can create serious problems,” said Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Buzz product manager Todd Jackson says the feature was included to make getting started as quick and simple as possible.

“However, many people just wanted to check out Buzz and see if it would be useful to them, and were not happy that they were already set up to follow people,” he says.

“So starting this week, instead of an auto-follow model in which Buzz automatically sets you up to follow the people you email and chat with most, we’re moving to an auto-suggest model. You won’t be set up to follow anyone until you have reviewed the suggestions and clicked “Follow selected people and start using Buzz.”

The company will also no longer connect users’ public Picasa Web Albums and Google Reader shared items automatically, and will add a Buzz tab to Gmail settings allowing users to hide Buzz from Gmail or disable it completely.