Google Buzz – Web 2.0 Narcosis

I love the idea of Web 2.0 – I jumped on the social networking bandwagon at a fairly early stage getting involved with AOL’s attempt to compete with myspace with its AIM pages. Its great that people with shared interests can join a network and interact with each other in a way that couldn’t be done before.

And I currently maintain profiles at LinkedIn, flickr, facebook & twitter, youtube, picasa, and SSC. These profiles I can handle quite nicely along with my own hobby sites and various shopping websites that I use. I have always argued that privacy concerns can be managed quite simply by starting out with the least info available to the public, then opening up the parts of your profile that you are happy to have seen. Also, I’ve always tended to keep my professional profile separate from my personal one so that I can really switch off when I have downtime.

Buzz Screenshot

Yesterday however I logged on to my GMail account and was offered the opportunity to sign up to Buzz. I clicked [Yes, sign me up] and shortly after I felt the first inkling that I have gone as far as I am willing to. I noticed that Google had kindly placed everyone in my GMail contacts list in my Buzz “Following” list and I dare say that those people following me hadn’t actively chosen to do so either. A shiver ran down my spine as I saw that work colleagues could see who my private contacts were, and that private contacts could see my other friends even though I may not want them knowing who I talk to on a regular basis.

Underneath the fresh looking Buzz is a clever piece of engineering which impresses me in many ways as an IT and database professional. I won’t be taking part in the latest evolution of the social network though. I think the concerns that have been highlighted here are valid. By default it should be assumed that identities online are kept private unless users have clearly opted to open them up to the public. These issues are issues that if not resolved will lead to a Buzz backlash.

There is a particular resonance here in the UK, since the government has been working on an identity database to be made available to various (many) agencies including Health, Social, Passport and Police Services. Having so much data held by one organisation is a scary proposition.

In the meantime, I’m switching off Buzz and coming up for air…

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