Saturdays are normally slow news days - allowing us to retreat into our reboot mode- a time to recharge and reset for the upcoming week. This was not the case for the gang that man the ivory towers of Mountain View in the heart of Silicon Valley. No, this weekend those pilgrims that pray at the altar of Larry Page and Sergey Brin were paying penance in an attempt to fix a transgression that was literally causing a very big BUZZzzzz!
What's The Buzz, Tell Me What's Happening...
With the release of Buzz, the search engine giant's answer to Facebook and Twitter, now commonly referred to as Gmail on steroids - users were aghast that Google in its infinite wisdom was pre-selecting their friends for them. For Gmail old-timers and even new users this meant that the people they communicated with frequently were now privy to way too much information. The outrage that ensued perplexed the hierarchy within the Googleplex as they viewed themselves as experts at proselytizing.
The irony should not be lost here. After a full month of fighting the Chinese government and threatening to pull out of the country due to hacking attempts against Gmail accounts, they now placed themselves front and center in a firestorm that positioned them as inconsiderate violators of privacy infractions themselves.
Evgeny Morozov in a Foreign Policy report, wrote, “If I were working for the Iranian or the Chinese government, I would immediately dispatch my Internet geek squads to check on Google Buzz accounts for political activists and see if they have any connections that were previously unknown to the government."
The folks at Mashable pinged Crimson Hexagon for an analysis of Twitter user's opinions about Buzz and provided the following survey results as of February 12.
While 'Privacy Concerns' only totaled 15%, over 71% of Twitter users were negative about the Buzz product, and probably won't become those converts to follow the Buzz-ites to the promised land.
So in an unprecedented turn of events, Google actually 'listened' to the 'wisdom of crowds' and retreated back to their Googleplex for some overdue hand-wringing and mea culpas. And then late on Saturday evening, just hours before the Sabbath, when all fingers pointed to the sacrificial lamb, Todd Jackson, product manager for Gmail and Google Buzz, he issued the following confession on his blog.
Jackson ended his post with what us Catholics use to call 'an act of contrition':
- "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. This created a great deal of concern and led people to think that Buzz had automatically displayed the people they were following to the world before they created a profile."
- "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.”
Apparently the changes that Jackson referred to will be implemented over the next few days. Salvation at last! While I often take pot-shots at Google just-because (and this blog is no different), I do extend kudos to the Google team for working over-time on a Saturday to address their sins of sedition quickly and expeditiously. While I wonder sometimes at the Big G's arrogance and perception that they are an omnipotent presence in our lives, it's also extremely gratifying to know that when put to the test, us common folk, the members of the flock can knock them down a few pegs - if only to tell them what we do and don't like.
- "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." (then said two Hail Marys and one Our Father)
If that's a buzz-kill - then I am guilty. Mea culpa! But God, made me do it!