Despite Changes, Buzz Still Violates Privacy Say Gmail Users Suing Google

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Web users suing Google about its new Buzz platform argue in new court papers that the program continues to infringe on their privacy notwithstanding recent tweaks.

"Despite making several rounds of modifications in the week after introducing Buzz, Google has not sufficiently altered the Buzz program to remedy the ongoing privacy violations," Gmail users allege in an amended complaint filed recently in U.S. District Court in San Jose. The new complaint consolidates seven individual lawsuits filed against Google between February and June.

The consumers allege that Google violated federal wiretap laws with Buzz, which created social networks out of people's Gmail contacts. At its launch, in February, the feature revealed information about the names of users' email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults. Since then, Google has significantly revised the service; now, it merely suggests followers, rather than automatically creating them. "When we realized we'd unintentionally made some users unhappy, we moved quickly and make significant product improvements to address their concerns," a Google spokesman told Online Media Daily. "We're continuing to make more improvements based on feedback from users."

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In April, Google presented users with a screen that allows them to uncheck a box and make followers (or those they follow) private, but the consumers complain that the default setting remains public. "The onus remains on the user to affirmatively opt-out of public sharing of 'follower' and 'following' lists," the plaintiffs allege.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed a complaint about Google Buzz with the Federal Trade Commission, also argues that the feature should be made completely opt-in.

Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that damage was done at launch. "Google's automatic sharing of user contact information, profile information, and postings had the effect of revealing to the public confidential and sometimes highly sensitive information," the complaint says. "This means that, for example, the names of a doctor's patients or a lawyer's clients were made public... Private contacts -- for instance, the contacts of a gay person who was struggling to come out of the closet and had contacted a gay support group -- could be revealed to the world."

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