Google's CEO Doesn't Get It

By: Nicole A. Ozer

Google's new Buzz service triggered a wave of criticism last week when it launched with serious privacy holes. While the company has moved to address some of those concerns, CEO Eric Schmidt seems to be missing the point, stating that the problem was that Google "did not understand how to communicate Google Buzz and its privacy. ... There was a lot of confusion when it came out on Tuesday, and people thought that somehow we were publishing their email addresses and private information, which was not true."

If only he were right.

Unfortunately, he's not. Buzz very directly exposed its users' "favorite" email and chat contacts–information that most certainly is personal and private–without making users aware of that fact. Users who created a "vanity URL" may have exposed their email address as well. And Mobile Buzz users may still be unaware that their buzzes are visible by default not only to their friends and connections but to any other nearby Buzz user.

The good news is that, unlike Schmidt, most of the Google folks involved with Buzz seem to get this. Google has publicly apologized for the privacy flaws in Buzz and has made changes to address the most glaring problems, including the fact that new Buzz users automatically "followed" many of their email and chat contacts and broadcast this fact to the world. It has also promised to walk anyone who joined Buzz before the change through the same process so that they can understand and adjust their privacy settings. Google showed once again that when you Demand Your dotRights and tell companies to respect your privacy, they will respond.

However, there is still more that Google needs to do. First, it needs to continue to fix Buzz, addressing privacy defaults for mobile users and the direct link between "vanity URLs" and GMail email addresses. More importantly, it needs to take this lesson to heart. Instead of giving in to the temptation to leverage information that it already has about users of Google products, Google needs to recognize that it holds that information in trust for its users and respect their right to control how or whether that information is used for any other purposes.

So please keep up the pressure and tell Google that Buzz still has some problems to fix and that Eric Schmidt and the rest of the company need to understand what the shouting's really about. Google's poor decisionmaking has already done damage to its users' privacy and the company's reputation; we hope they will learn from this debacle instead of repeating their mistakes.

And for more information about efforts to push companies like Google to respect your privacy on social networks and elsewhere on the Internet, please join our online privacy campaign, Demand Your dotRights!