Commentary

Google Increases Privacy Controls For Buzz

Google Buzz will begin rolling out a new privacy setting Monday for those using Gmail's social network add-on tool. People logging in to Buzz will see a confirmation screen that requires them to confirm preference privacy settings, including a list of subscribers to their feed. It's not clear if the changes come a little too late.

In a blog the Mountain View, Calif., search engine plans to post later today, Google Product Manager Todd Jackson admits that Google "didn't get everything right," but moved "as fast as possible" to improve the Buzz experience and protect the privacy of people using the social network.

Consumer Watchdog recently filed a Freedom of information Act request for copies of emails traded between the White House's Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin and colleagues at his former employer, Google.

Similar to millions of other Gmail users, McLaughlin's Google profile page provided a default list of Followers automatically selected by the Gmail add-on, which based the contacts on frequently e-mailed or chatted-with social connections. The list revealed around 28 Google employees, including senior lobbyists and lawyers.

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Google has been in damage control mode since Buzz launched. A recent study done by the online ad network Chitika points to trouble. The numbers suggest Google Buzz has seen "its momentum dwindle to practically nothing."

You would think Google's built-in user base would cement the search engine's position at the top of the list for social networks when it launched on Feb. 9. The Chitika network tracked about 1,500 searches that day for the term "Google Buzz," approximately 15 times the number of searches for "Twitter." But those searches dropped off quickly to 580 by Feb. 10 and 147 on Feb. 11. Since Feb. 12, searches failed to break the three-digit mark, according to the report.

For those who want more evidence than Chitika's report offers, the ad network points to Google's keyword search volume tool, Google Insights for Search, to demonstrate a similar spike and decline. The ad network, however, admits the fluctuation doesn't appear as dramatic. Google's tool puts Feb. 10 as the top search day for the term "Google Buzz," with a peak of 59 daily searches.

Although difficult to believe, the report indicates that by Feb. 15, searches for the service had dwindled to less than 10 per day, and since Feb. 26 there has been a constant stream of one search per day.

Twitter, by contrast, has shown similar stability in the numbers seen across the Chitika network since Google Buzz launched. Twitter saw an average of 84 searches per day, according to Chitika.

I'm still waiting to see the influence the Salmon protocol will have on Google Buzz when it finally gets implemented. The protocol will allow people to communicate across social networks.

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