Google Buzz Privacy Backlash Not Anticipated, Google Says

Google Vice President of Product Management Bradley Horowitz said Google did not expect the negative backlash that befell Google Buzz when it launched Feb. 9. Horowitz acknowledged users were "unhappy," which led Google to work around the clock to address concerns. He said Google is still weighing user feedback, but declined to say what sort of additional changes his team might make to meet user requests. However, more granular privacy controls, such as filters and other features to let users turn off Buzz, are likely in the works. One of those changes could be to create a standalone Buzz product in addition to the current Gmail-based Buzz.

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 faced in the week since Buzz launched.

Google launched Google Buzz Feb. 9 to let users post status updates, links, photos and videos within the application that leverages Gmail users' e-mail 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 e-mail 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 Feb. 16.

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 Feb. 16 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.

""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," Horowitz said. "

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.