Thursday, February 18, 2010
Canadian Privacy Office Eyes Google Buzz!
Canada's privacy commissioner has promised to examine charges that the Google Buzz protocol may violate the country's privacy laws.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said that she had asked Google to explain how Buzz had addressed Canada's privacy issues.
"We have seen a storm of protest and outrage over alleged privacy violations and my Office also has questions about how Google Buzz has met the requirements of privacy law in Canada," Commissioner Stoddart said in a statement.
The commissioner said that she had held a conference call with Google to explain her concerns, which included the fact that Google had not consulted with the office before launching the product in Canada. Google simultaneously made Buzz available to estimated 146 million users last week.
Buzz has come under fire because, at launch, the service instantly tied users to frequent Gmail contacts as part of the Buzz program. Since Buzz allows other users to "follow" other users without permission, those contacts were exposed to the world. Bloggers and journalists worried about exposing sources and other private relationships.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint against Google in the U.S., seeking an injunction or other relief to counter Buzz. EPIC asked the Federal Trade Commission to make Google Buzz entirely opt-in, and allow users to accept or reject followers.
Although Google's headquarters are in the United States, Canada's privacy office has forced rivals to make sweeping changes. In August 2009, the office criticized Facebook, saying it did not do enough to protect user privacy. In response, Facebook pledged to embark on a year-long overhaul if its privacy practices, revamping and then rolling out the updated policy in November.
On Tuesday, Google pledged to continue to make "improvements" in the Buzz technology. ""User transparency and control are top of mind for us, and we review all products carefully before we roll them out," Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management, said in a statement released by a Google spokeswoman. "When we realized that we'd unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to address their concerns. We'll continue to make more improvements in dialog with our users."
To date, Horowitz's only Buzz post has been a reiteration of what Horowitz said he said at the Buzz launch.
"I want to let you know today that we're just getting started. We're not launching this today because we think we're 'done'... We don't think that's how a product like this is built," Horowitz posted. "You don't pull of the covers on a completely finished work. We're launching this today, because we're just getting started... There's so much opportunity... rather than... 'navel-gazing' we're going to put the product in market and we're going to get in dialog with our users... our developers... and help inform the trajectory of the product based on real data from 'in the field' experience."
Others pointed out that the rush to market was uncharacteristic of Google. "It's called a beta program," Mike Elgan wrote, responding to Horowitz via Buzz. "I don't understand why you called Gmail "beta" for five years, but didn't call Buzz "beta" for five minutes. Gmail obviously wasn't beta in the final few years of the so-called "beta" program, and Buzz obviously is beta. Can you explain this?"