The Great Google Buzz BacktrackS

Google Buzz: Well, that didn't go so well! After the Internet erupted into a storm of "Fuck You Google" over privacy concerns, Google has scaled back some of the features that scared people the most. Will it be enough?

Yesterday, Gmail Product Manager Todd Jackson issued a mea culpa of sorts:

We've heard your feedback loud and clear, and since we launched Google Buzz four days ago, we've been working around the clock to address the concerns you've raised. Today, we wanted to let you know about a number of changes we'll be making over the next few days based on all the feedback we've received.

Specifically, the changes were:

  • Buzz will no longer have you "auto-follow" people based on who you most frequently communicate with in Gmail. This feature revealed people's email/chat habits, and was basically a cheater's worst nightmare.

  • Buzz will no longer automatically sync with your Reader and Picasa Albums. This, combined with the "auto-follow" could potentially lead to some embarrassing/dangerous situations, like your Mom seeing all the pictures you took in the sauna that one time.

  • More robust and clearly-labeled privacy options—if you value your privacy more than... whatever it is Buzz does, you can disable Buzz completely!

Tonight the Times assess the fallout. Would you believe that some people think these changes make Buzz safe, while some people think they don't go far enough? Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center—which will not rest until all your information is locked up in a big vault and tossed into the Mariana Trench—told the Times: "Even with these changes, there is still the concern that Gmail users are being driven into a social networking service that they didn't sign up for."

They may not have signed up for it—but they're clearly using it: According to Mashable, there have been "over 9 million posts and comments in about 56 hours." Mashable thinks all these privacy concerns will blow over, and that Buzz will go about changing (sigh) the metaphorical game. While the exact amount of change Buzz will bring unto the game is debatable, we also believe that anger at Google's Buzz privacy sins will dissipate, or at least be absorbed into the less virulent "Google is a Dangerous Privacy-Demolishing Robot God But We Will Use All of its Products Anyway" paradigm.

Key lesson: You can give away whatever of your user's information you want so long as you also provide a clearly-marked button they believe will turn off the flow. It's the choice that counts.