Google Surprised By Negative Backlash Against Buzz

Google did not expect the negative backlash to Google Buzz when it launched, and has had to work around the clock to address privacy concerns, says Google Product Manager Bradley Horowitz

The Google executive overseeing Google Buzz, the product that triggered perhaps the biggest privacy backlash ever against the search engine, said Google did not anticipate the strong protest over user privacy the company has faced in the week since Buzz launched.

Google launched Google Buzz on 9 February to let users post status updates, links, photos and videos within the application that leverages Gmail users’ email and chat contacts as a ready-made social network.

Within the first 24 hours of using the product, several users discovered that Buzz surfaced the email and chat contacts Buzz users follow, or who follow them, on Buzz users’ Google profile pages.

Google has taken several steps to ameliorate the ensuing privacy backlash, making privacy controls more visible and making the service auto-suggest instead of auto-follow.

Still, the brouhaha reached its zenith when the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint about Buzz with the Federal Trade Commission on 16 February.

eWEEK asked Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management at Google and the executive who presided over the creation of Buzz, whether Google created Buzz with blinders on, failing to vet it properly with the public.

Horowitz denied this, but admitted to eWEEK that Google did not anticipate the outrage and ire leveled at the company regarding the privacy issues. Horowitz acknowledged users were “unhappy,” which led Google to work around the clock to address concerns.

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“While the outcome was not something I would have wished for or predicted, the remedies and response of the team has really indicated to me that we have a great core competency at Google in terms of being able to develop social software, to be in dialogue with our users and to rapidly iterate and improve the product,” said Horowitz (left).

It’s true the privacy furor surrounding Buzz forced Google to quickly make some changes to improve user privacy.

However, Google Buzz Product Manager Todd Jackson told BBC News that while Google tested Buzz with its 20,000-plus employees, it failed to run Buzz through the Trusted Tester program, a network of friends and family of Google employees who are given access to products before they launch.

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