Google Buzz Privacy Issue: How to Hide People You're Following on Your Profile [en]

Yesterday, I got a call from a journalist about Google Buzz. I didn’t have much to say as I hadn’t read up on it and my account was not active yet. A few hours later I got a chance to play with it a few minutes before going out, quite liked it, left it at that.

Today, I’m pretty disturbed. Without going into deep analysis, here is the reason: Google Buzz displays the list of people I’m following (and those who follow me) on my public Google Profile.

Why is this an issue? After all, Twitter as been displaying followers/followees forever.

This is an issue because the default people Google Buzz makes me follow when I activate the service are the people I chat with and e-mail the most.

Chatting and e-mail happen in the private space. It’s nobody’s business who I chat with most, and who I e-mail regularly. I do not want that data exposed.

Buzz, on the other hand, is “public”. It’s Twitter-like. Come to think of it, I’m not sure it belongs anywhere near my inbox. (Wave might, though, but that’s another story.)

This is a nasty messy ugly mixture of public and private, where private information is suddenly made public without us being really aware of it.

Thankfully, there is a way to hide those lists from your Google Profile. Edit your profile and uncheck the “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me” checkbox on the right, as in this screenshot.

Hide people you're following on Buzz

I’ll quote from the article I mentioned above, for what Google should have done here:

The whole point is: Google should just ask users: “Do you want to follow these people we’ve suggested you follow based on the fact that you email and chat with them? Warning: This will expose to the public who you email and chat with most.”  Google should not let users proceed to using Buzz until they click, “Yes, publish these lists.”

Or simply, make these lists private by default.

Update 14:35: Suw Charman-Anderson has some thoughts on Google Buzz: Not fit for purpose that you also might want to read.

Update 12.02.2010: Google have reacted to the concerns about “following list” privacy and have planned some changes. Suw comments upon them at the bottom of her updated post.

10 thoughts on “Google Buzz Privacy Issue: How to Hide People You're Following on Your Profile [en]

  1. Funny: I have (disabled) Buzz in my GMail account, but have only one checkbox on my Google Profile, the “Allow people to contact me” one. Guess I’ll have to wait a bit…

  2. Thank you for this important information. Last evening I quickly activated Buzz and spent a few minutes checking it out, but didn’t think that the privacy settings were so crappy…

  3. Steph,

    Thanks for this timely alert. I fully agree with your analysis on a strange (dangerous?) mix of the private and public spheres. I’ll disable the information sharing immediately.

  4. Thanks for the tips about Google Buzz. Many people are still questioning where this fits in the social media sphere. In the meantime, people can take steps to protect their and their contacts privacy.

  5. Thank you very much for posting the screenshot, Stephanie! I’ve been reading all these blog posts that tell me I can uncheck “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me” but like Xavier, that option does not appear in my Profile. I have two options, “Display my full name…” and “Allow people to contact me…”. I guess I too will have to wait; I’m at Google’s mercy to protect the privacy of my contacts.

  6. Thanks for this …
    Was looking for it …
    I really start worrying now about the total lock-in google has managed to all gmail users …

  7. Thanks for letting me know how to turn this off.


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