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.

Six Twitter Tools [en]

[fr] Une série d'outils/sites autour de Twitter que vous trouverez peut-être utiles.

This is just a small list of links to more or less useful Twitter tools and sites, that you can use (amongst other things) to figure out if this or that new (or old) follower is a spammer or not. I find that kind of information useful when deciding to publish or not “Twitter comments” here (they come in through BackType Connect). None of these ask your your Twitter password, they all use OAuth (you should not be handing out your password to any third-party service, by the way).

  • TwitBlock goes through your followers and tells you (with extensive details) how likely it is that they are spammers or bots. You can block them directly from the site (be careful!) You can also just ask it to check one specific account (this is how I know that there is very little likelyhood that @stephtara is a spammer, cool!)
  • Tweet Blocker also goes through your followers to chase for spammers, giving each of them a grade (I’m an A+ student). I find the explanations given for each evaluation less clear than with TwitBlock. Again, you can block people directly from their site — don’t go overboard.
  • gives you information about a given Twitter account, which can also come in handy when trying to figure out if somebody is ham or spam. Again, example with @stephtara.
  • Follow cost is rather basic, and will tell you how “chatty” a given user is. This is how I know that I average 13.6 tweets a day (ouch!).
  • Favstar is interesting, as it centres on favourites, telling you which of your tweets (or any user’s, for that matter) were favourited by whom. I’m less excited by their “100+, 50+, …” leaderboard (the popular just get more popular).
  • When did you join Twitter? tells you exactly that. (Me? December 8th, 2006.)

Any other ones you find useful? Link to them in the comments. (Yeah, there’s a wave, too. Who’s going to write a plugin which creates and links post-related comment waves automatically?)