Security Bytes

Feb 11 2010   1:41PM GMT

How to turn off Google Buzz and avoid privacy issues

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt

Google’s new Twitter-like tool in Gmail, called Google Buzz, has prompted some privacy advocates to cry foul. Here’s how to turn it off.

Google’s new Twitter-like tool it calls Google Buzz was added this week in its popular Gmail webmail service. While many are praising its inclusion as a way to easily integrate updates with friends and family, privacy advocates are miffed over the way Google has rolled out the new tool.

Gmail users were initially prompted to try Google Buzz, but even if you skip the trial, Google Buzz is automatically turned on by default. And many Google Buzz features are enabled by default.

Then Google chose to make Google Buzz automatically follow certain friends and family members who you supposedly “frequently” email in your contact list. While it seems like a helpful way to get started, the privacy issue stems from the fact that anyone you have emailed can view your followers and see who you communicate with frequently. All they need to do is visit your publicly available profile. I didn’t even realize my information was public until I learned that I was being followed by my wife and several others in my contact list.

Cnet video podcaster Molly Wood explains some of the other initial Google Buzz privacy issues in this blog post and explains why she’s turning off the feature. Wood says it immediately attempted to share some of the photos on her Android phone – photos which she had not uploaded. In addition, though it’s not turned on by default, Google Buzz has a feature that can broadcast your location to your followers.

While Gmail is used frequently for personal email, some small businesses and even midsize companies are using the webmail service for primary business email to cut down on costs. I’m sure having contact lists automatically broadcasted to others wouldn’t bode well with those users.

Here’s how to turn off Google Buzz:

  1. Log into Gmail
  2. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page.
  3. Click the link that says “Turn off Google Buzz.”

That’s it. It’s that easy. There are ways to turn off some of the features, but Google hasn’t made it easy and intuitive for users to find and edit those settings. The best way to ensure your privacy is to turn off the service.

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