The Washington Post has questions about the privacy implications of Google’s new social-networking site, Google Buzz.
As a short introductory video explains, Buzz requires an active Gmail account and Google Contacts list. It uses those ingredients to plot its “social graph” of your friends: Buzz assumes the people you talk to the most in e-mail are the ones you want to hear from the most on this new service. (Since I’ve used my Gmail account mainly for commercial e-mails from stores, financial institutions, airlines and so on, this part won’t work for me.)
Once Buzz is active in your Gmail account — something that will happen gradually as Google deploys it — you’ll be able to choose between publicly or privately posting comments, links, photos and videos. Public posts, or buzzes, will show up on your Google Profile (remember how Google began building up that feature without an obvious need for it?) and can appear in Google Web searches — much as Twitter updates do today. Private buzzes will show up only for other Buzz users who are on your Google Contacts list, or a subset that you designate for each buzz — just as Facebook lets you choose who will see each status update. […]
Buzz appears more ambitious, and a tad creepier, on a mobile device. It ties into the location-aware capabilities Google has built into such sites as Google Maps to determine your location, then goes a step further to try to map those coordinates to real-world places and establishments — so instead of placing you at 1600 Ampitheatre Pkwy. in Mountain View, it knows you’re at the Googleplex.
Using just-updated versions of Google Maps for Android and other platforms (an update for Apple’s iPhone will come later), you can then easily announce your presence at a given store, restaurant, bar or airport and post a comment or photo about the place. The former feature threatens FourSquare and its increasingly popular check-in feature; the latter represents a stab at Yelp’s business of rating real-world establishments. […]
But Google faces some huge obstacles to building up Buzz as a nexus of everybody’s social networks. […] Buzz carries a greater risk of privacy mishaps than even Facebook, thanks to its location-awareness — one nearby Buzz user, who had earlier taken the trouble to make her Twitter and Facebook accounts private, revealed her apartment’s location by mistake. (After I posted a comment asking about that — which I can only hope did not broadcast my own location — she seems to have deleted that buzz.)
Most of all, Buzz’s mobile features require placing a phenomenal amount of trust in Google: You’re not only letting its computers tell you what’s worth knowing on the Web, read your e-mail and keep your calendar, now you’re going to let them follow you around in the real world.