Google made a whopper of a mistake

There's an old saying "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me".  Google's new Buzz service now falls under that probationary truism, as it has become embroiled in a privacy mess.

Google officially launched its Google Buzz service -- a social networking-like RSS feed which drew from Picasa, Flikr, Twitter, and Gmail only last week.  Many observers worried that the service might suffer similar problems to Facebook, which raised a lot of uproar over privacy changes, and a year ago had to publicly apologize after putting users' purchases off-site (with partners) in their feeds.  Not so, said Google.  The search giant insisted that it would "do no evil" as its motto goes, and would protect its customers.

Unfortunately that didn't happen.

Google, whose CEO Eric Schmidt once famously remarked that those wanting privacy were probably up to no good, quickly dug itself into loads of trouble when it decided it would be a smart idea to "auto-follow" everyone its enrolled Gmail users chatted with or emailed.  Users quickly responded with outrage.  Google's faux pas essentially leaked users' email records.  Embarrassment ensued -- everything from following ex's to friended competitors -- and many users suffered from Google's lack of discretion.

The worst part?  The service was enabled by default, so any Gmail user may have had their personal info exposed -- that's millions of users.

This week Google changed the feature, writing an apology blog.  Writes Todd Jackson, Product Manager, Gmail and Google Buzz, "We quickly realized that we didn't get everything quite right.  We're very sorry for the concern we've caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We'll continue to do so.  For the tens of millions of you who have already started using Buzz, over the next couple weeks we'll be showing you a similar version of this new start-up experience to give you a second chance to review and confirm the people you're following."

Google is now allowing Gmail users to opt out of the new service and is making it easier for them to hide their followers and who they are following.

Still, one has to wonder how much damage has really been done, and whether it's too late to salvage the good name of the new service, or Gmail for that matter.  As they say, "fool me once..."

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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