Home Google Gets Sued Over Buzz: Why It Should Have Said “Please?”

Google Gets Sued Over Buzz: Why It Should Have Said “Please?”

When Google unveiled Buzz, their new social network add-on to Gmail, last week, many members of the technology community were excited, but that excitement quickly gave way to concerns over privacy as more and more people saw the number of ways their private information was being exposed.

While some people wrote scathing blog posts, saying quite simply – and in big, bold lettering – “F*ck You, Google“, a Florida woman has gone one logical step further and filed a class action lawsuit against the hapless email-turned-social-network provider. Maybe, if Google had simply asked its users before signing them up for the service, they could have avoided all of this.

The most common complaint among many is that when Google automatically signed Gmail users up for the service, it auto-followed the people they talked with the most, publicly, exposing connections users would otherwise reasonably expect to remain private. Other complaints range from how easy it is to hack Google’s numeric profile URL, revealing a user’s Gmail address, to revealing a user’s geo-location.

ReadWriteWeb’s full coverage and analysis of Google Buzz:

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the complaint filed yesterday in a San Jose federal court alleges that “Google Inc. broke the law when its controversial Google Buzz service shared personal data without the consent of users.” The suit accuses Google of breaking the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, an online privacy protection group, filed a similar complaint [pdf] earlier this week, asserting the simple idea that “users should have meaningful control over their information.”

We got in touch with Google, but the company says it has still yet to be served and cannot comment until it’s been able to review the complaint.

It seems that some others think this lawsuit is merely a “pure money grab“, but we think that Google’s actions can have real-world consequences for the more than 30 million Gmail users it signed up for the service without properly testing it beforehand. And even if they had properly tested it beforehand, those people signed up for an email service, not a social network.

The Gmail Privacy Policy, under the section somewhat ironically entitled “Your Choices”, now reads to say that users have the ability to “choose to use additional Gmail features, such as chat, which connects to the Google Talk network, or Google Buzz.” We emailed Google asking where in the user agreements one might consent to something like being automatically signed up for Google Buzz, but did not receive a response by press time.

As Harriet Jacobs, the author of the colorfully-titled post cursing Google, points out, anyone from abusive ex-husbands to Internet stalkers were suddenly given information that Google’s users had intentionally kept hidden. While this may have been a mistake, a company that has access to as much information about us as Google has needs to have appropriate preventative measures in place for this sort of thing.

Could you imagine the uproar if something like our search habits were suddenly released to the public in a big “Oops!” moment for Google? Would an apologetic blog post suffice then? Somehow, we don’t think so and we’re not sure it should now either.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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