A Microsoft researcher called out Google and Facebook for their recent privacy snafus, criticizing the Internet companies for taking liberties with users' personal information for new product launches.
Danah Boyd, who studies social networking against the backdrop of sociological theory for Microsoft Research, gave Google Buzz the dreaded FAIL designation at the SXSW show in Austin, Texas March 13.
"What the outrage around Google Buzz showed us is that people care deeply about privacy and control," said Boyd, who paraphrased her talk on her blog here. "Don't get me wrong -- plenty of people will use the service and it will be extremely popular, but this doesn't mean Google didn't screw up. They're taking a hit in terms of trust, because not everyone benefited from what they did."
Boyd said Buzz, a social networking stream that leverages contacts in users Google Gmail accounts to spur conversations among friends and strangers alike, erred by displaying Gmail contacts by default on users' Google profiles. Users could opt out of this, but instructions were initially vague and users had to delete their Google Profiles to exit Buzz entirely.
Several users took issue with this when Google launched the service Feb. 9, and Google responded by making privacy controls more visible, adding additional controls and inbox management features to cut down some of the prodigious noise generated in buzz.
While Boyd said the Google Buzz team, led by Todd Jackson, created a technologically sound product with several opt-outs, the product ultimately skewered users' social expectations."
For example, Google made information Gmail users knew to be private -- their contacts -- and made them public for users who opted into Buzz.
"Instead of asking new Buzz users if they wanted to see who else that they know on Google services might be using Buzz, they pre-populated a list and provided it to them as their default list of friends. This made people feel downright creeped out," Boyd argued.
"The result? Confused users believed that their e-mails were being made publicly accessible. While this was never the case, the integration confused people and gave them the wrong impression about the service. This created unnecessary panic amongst users, resulting in bad PR for Google that was technologically inaccurate."