Thank You, Google, for Wasting One Hour of My Precious Working Time Rescuing My Friends' and My Privacy, for Making Me Unable to Sleep Well from Now On.

As I said in a previous post, I turned off Google Buzz immediately when it was enabled onto my gmail account. I was annoyed by the fact that I was not asked to opt in, shocked by the fact that many of my email contacts were automatically added in, and deeply troubled by the fact that, from a quick glance, I have absolutely no control over the whole thing: access control and privacy level settings.

I turned off Buzz by clicking on the very small text link at the very bottom of my gmail page. Who would have thought that it is put in the very sheepish place where privacy policy and other legal prints are? And that's not even the end of the story.

A few friends have reported that many of your online traces are still there even if you turned off Buzz. I had a hunch that it was going to be bad. So I re-enabled Buzz and did some experiments with other friends. It was worse.

A quick summary of a few very troubling facts.

  1. People can see who you are inadvertently following. That mostly includes contacts you've recently writing to. Good luck if you were writing to an old flame, to a competitor, to a potential client that asks to remain confidential, or to a potential new employer.

  2. You're inadvertently added to people's follow list. And you have absolutely no control over who can see you and who can add you.

  3. People can see who you're inadvertently following and who are inadvertently following you.

  4. Blocking people takes you away from people's follow list. If I block Alice, I'm now gone from Alice's follower list. So when Bob looks at Alice's follower list, he won't see me. But,

  5. You have to re-enable Buzz to block people. If you don't block people, they'll stay on your follower list forever.

  6. Even if you have turned off Buzz, people are still able to find you—and as a result are able to comb through your "social network"—through other people's follower/following lists. I've heard that if you have ever created a Google Profile, or is sharing your Google Reader feeds to Buzz, the situation is worse.

  7. If someone disabled Buzz, you can't block them. Because there is no longer a profile link for you to click into, and that's the only place to unfollow people. And they'll stay in your "following you" list forever.

Confusing? I'm as confused as you are.

The damage is already done. Evgeny Morozov of Foreign Policy has written on the political ramification of Google's careless rollout of Buzz, especially in oppressive countries.

What deeply troubled me is that I had to learn about how Buzz worked in order to thwart potential invasions to my privacy, over which I used to think I've had good control with Google's trusted mail service. And now I start to worry, even start to fret if I have missed anything to plug the holes.

I had spent an hour unfollowing everyone that I was "following" and blocking everyone that Buzz said was followed me. I assume this is for now the only way to keep my friends and I from the mess.

But now I know I won't sleep well and have to come back to check (by re-enabling Buzz then turning it off again) to see if I've missing anything, or if another place catches on fire, another item of my private information was inadvertently leaked. And the entire world might still think if such information is revealed with my consent and authorization.