In my last post, I wondered whether people were tiring of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Immediately after writing that post I decided to give up Facebook for the 40 days for Lent. It's been six days since I last updated my status and I'm finding it much easier than giving up wine or sweets, my usual Lenten sacrifices. So the last thing I needed was yet another social networking tool popping up uninvited in my Gmail box.
Normally, I am wowed by just about anything Google creates. There's no doubt that organizing both my work and home lives has become so much easier thanks to Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs. But Google Buzz? Not so much.
Earlier this month, Google announced Buzz on its corporate blog, calling it "a new way to start conversations about the things you find interesting. It's built right into Gmail,
so you don't have to peck out an entirely new set of friends from
scratch — it just works. Buzz brings this network to the
surface by automatically setting you up to follow the people you email
and chat with the most."
I was on vacation when Buzz went live, so I was a little slow to experience it. I saw the multi-colored sphere beneath my Gmail inbox and clicked on it to see a random list of suggested connections "based on who I e-mail and chat with most." The people Google selected for me were not my friends but a group of publicity hungry authors and PR reps looking for coverage on my blogs and podcast. At first it was not obvious to me how to turn Buzz off. I tried my Gmail account settings. Nothing. Maybe it was in the "more" pull-down menu at the top of the page? Nope. After spending more time than I had planned, I decided to revisit Buzz another day, when I actually had time to investigate it with vigor.
It wasn't long before the news on Buzz found me. Privacy experts, bloggers and the media all decried the service. A class action suit was filed. And thankfully Google responded. But what I still don't understand is why companies think we've become an opt-out culture? Shouldn't we assume most people want to start by protecting their privacy and decide who they want to share information with? Why was it assumed that I, and every other Gmail user, would automatically want to try Buzz in the first place?
As social networking continues to become more pervasive in modern society the burden is on us to fully understand the upgrades, terms of service and new tools that no longer consider privacy a right of users, but rather something you need to opt-in for. Just imagine if the rules of online social networking spilled over to real life? You'd have people showing up on your doorstep for a party assuming they were invited because, well, you didn't opt not to invite them.