Google Buzz faces more scrutiny over privacy

Google Buzz has barely entered its second week of operation, and the new social network continues to be dogged by privacy issues. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said late Tuesday it is looking into privacy concerns surrounding Buzz, according to Canada’s CBC News. This announcement comes on the heels of the news the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a privacy complaint over Google Buzz with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Canada stands on guard for online privacy

A spokesperson for Canada’s privacy watchdog said the office was looking into privacy concerns raised by the public over Buzz, but didn’t specify what those concerns were. Google Canada told the CBC it was working with privacy officials, but had no comment about what privacy concerns were being discussed.

Concerns over how Google Buzz treats individual users’ privacy have been wide ranging, and include concerns that Buzz can expose your personal e-mail address and your e-mail contacts. Google has moved quickly, however, to quell privacy concerns and has already made privacy adjustments to Buzz on two separate occasions. Google has publicly apologized over the Buzz privacy issues, and the company also admitted earlier this week to BBC News that its testing process for Buzz was not as rigorous as it could have been.

This is not the first time Canada’s privacy commissioner has looked into complaints over social networks. Last summer, the privacy office issued a set of recommendations for Facebook’s privacy policy to bring the social network in line with Canadian privacy laws. Facebook said it would implement those recommendations into its privacy features over the next 12 months. Facebook’s self-imposed deadline to comply with Canada’s privacy laws expires in August.
EPIC Complaint

While Google continues to work with Canadian officials, the search giant may have to contend with an FTC investigation into Buzz’s treatment of user privacy. In a complaint filed on Tuesday with the FTC, EPIC says that “emails and associated information [are] fundamentally private,” and that “email service providers have a particular responsibility to safeguard the personal information that subscribers provide.”

In its complaint, EPIC requests that Google make Buzz a completely opt-in service rather than opt-out; stop using a Gmail users’ private address book to compile a social networking list; and give Buzz users more control over who they connect with on Buzz. You can read the complete EPIC complaint here (PDF download).
Most of those complaints are valid; however, it must be pointed out that almost all social networking services give you the option to import your contacts from a variety of e-mail services and build your network based on that information. Google, however, grabs your contact list automatically and displays a list of contacts it suggests you follow instead of asking you if you want to use your Gmail contacts list on Buzz.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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