They’re Just Words

Escarpment

It turns out there’s been an update to Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” policy.

Remember a month ago, how they said they weren’t going to be censoring Chinese search results anymore?

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

So yeah, a month later they’re still doing that. They haven’t changed anything.

Even better, by which I mean “worse”: You might not have heard of Google Buzz, but wow, it’s probably heard of you. You probably remember when their CEO Eric Schmidt said this:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

And you might know that this is the same person who blacklisted CNet for publishing information about him that it looked up (yes) on Google. Well, it turns out that despite their privacy policy, they’ve codified that fuck-you attitude and deployed it to their entire user base. For most of us these things are minor inconveniences, and possibly minor embarrassments. But for some people, their brain-dead idea of equating “contacts” with “friends” and then making that information public-facing without user intervention or consent has real, severe consequences.

Yeah, they did that. Think you’re having a bad privacy day? I hope it’s not as bad as this woman’s having:

I use my private Gmail account to email my boyfriend and my mother.

There’s a BIG drop-off between them and my other “most frequent” contacts.

You know who my third most frequent contact is?

My abusive ex-husband.

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.

There are instructions here on how to get out from under that, but the key point is that just turning off Buzz isn’t enough; you need to play whackamole with a follower’s list you probably don’t even know you have first.

It’s not written down anywhere (there is, as of this writing, no comment about this Buzz disaster in any of their blog posts and the word “buzz” doesn’t appear in their privacy FAQ) but the updated policy appears to be:

“Don’t Be Evil*”

* Facilitating, collaborating are acceptable.

8 Comments

  1. Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t paid enough attention to Buzz to know firsthand, but I’ve seen several people say that her account is factually wrong on how Buzz works for sharing things.

  2. Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    The above said, I think it’s VERY clear that users have no freakin’ clue how online privacy stuff works (see all the kerfuffling over Facebook every time they change something), and that even technically okay policies and processes may end up leading people astray, as probably happened here, and that Google could certainly do a better job with privacy management than they’re doing. For that matter, they could be doing a much better job integrating their services in general. They’ve got a lot of stuff scattered all over the place.

  3. mhoye
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think she’s wrong. I turned buzz on to check (I haven’t done the whackamole part yet) and I’m looking at a screen here that says “you’re automatically following all these people, and they’re automatically following you”, and those people are my gmail contacts.

    This is the real deal.

  4. Ian
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    You’d think they’d have learned from Facebook’s recent “public by default” changes, but apparently not. I spent a few minutes today turning shit off. Google’s motto may be a lie; or charitably, it overestimates how savvy its users are. “Don’t be evil” and “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” don’t coexist easily.

  5. Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I don’t believe Buzz shares any private by default; it’s quite possible that those Google Reader comments were publicly visible anyway. The one (glaring!) exception is that your list of followers is public, so your most frequent contacts are exposed for all the world to see.

  6. Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    So I went to look at Buzz, and I’m actually unclear about what it’s sharing and how. If I’m unclear, there’s no way any perceptible fraction of its userbase has any clue at all what it’s doing.

    I’m okay with “evil in effect”, though I suspect incompetence far more than malice as the cause.

  7. Posted February 12, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Google’s response to that post: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-adding-two-privacy-features-in-response-to-bloggers-outrage-2010-2

  8. mhoye
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    That is good news. I hope they make an effort not to change people’s privacy settings out from under them in the future, as well.