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Google gets working on the biggest privacy breach in Buzz

Google's Buzz is facing flak from critics over what they have dubbed as the biggest privacy breach in its history. The tool is now facing an avalanche of complains, as it has given an easy access to user information.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2010 20:57 IST

Google's Buzz is facing flak from critics over what they have dubbed as the biggest privacy breach in its history.

Google had introduced Buzz, which is similar to social networking sites like Facebook, to its email service Gmail, but in doing so it automatically made public its users'' most frequently talked-to contacts.

The tool is now facing an avalanche of complains, as it has given an easy access to user information.

Some of those who complained included a woman whose abusive ex- husband was able to find sensitive information about her after signing in to Buzz.

Journalists whose confidential sources were revealed to other users by Buzz, and political activists whose contacts were made public and potentially open to analysis by government investigators.

To make matters worse, the system selected which contacts were made public, with some users reporting that people they had only spoken to once appeared on the list.

Google at the weekend apologised for the error and announced it would make changes to the system.

"Since we launched Google Buzz four days ago, we've been working around the clock to address the concerns you''ve raised," News.com.au quoted product manager Todd Jackson as writing on the Gmail Blog.

However that is unlikely to satisfy critics, who view the mistake as a sign Google does not take the privacy of its users seriously.

Articles criticising Buzz have flooded popular social news sites like Digg, with headlines including: "And you thought Facebook had privacy issues?"

The story that has attracted most interest describes how one blogger''s details became available to her abusive ex husband and is titled: "F--- you Google".

"You know who my third most frequent contact is. My abusive ex-husband," wrote the author.

"Which is why it's SO EXCITING, Google, that you AUTOMATICALLY allowed all my most frequent contacts access to my Reader, including all the comments I've made on Reader items, usually shared with my boyfriend, who I had NO REASON to hide my current location or workplace from, and never did.

"My privacy concerns are not trite. They are linked to my actual physical safety," she had stated.

Meanwhile Tech Crunch said the idea of linking private communications - email - with social networking was "just asking for trouble".

"Google is - deservedly - getting a lot of heat for the fact that its latest social product has a number of privacy flaws baked into it by design," it said.

Buzz was rolled out to the entirety of Gmail's estimated 176 million users.

Speaking to Computerworld, Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Dr Robert Clarke said the privacy incursion bordered on illegal.

"Personal data about them has been re-purposed without formal notice to them and without consent," he said.

"This is quite possibly illegal use and disclosure of personal data without consent," he added.