IF you’ve been following the tech media this week, you’ll know that Google is in hot water over one of the most serious privacy breaches in its history.

Informer, icky bom bom yea.

You’ll likely have heard that Google launched a new product, called Google Buzz,  that was meant to create a social network out of its email users.

And that major privacy flaws in the product led to abusive men getting access to the details of their ex wives, political activists finding their contacts made public for investigators to peruse and journalists having their sources “outed”. I’m one of those journalists.

When I clicked on the Google Buzz button in my Gmail account last weekend, Google automatically made a list of people connected to me based on people who I had spoken with by email.

No option was displayed to give me a choice of whether or not this list should be created.

And who turned up in it was quite a shock – an ex girlfriend, an editor based in New York who I had spoken to just once and most disturbingly a person who had contacted me confidentially to provide information for a news story.

Sometimes when people want to talk to me about sensitive information, they aren’t comfortable sending messages to an address with “news.com.au” in it because it may look conspicuous.

In those cases, I often provide them with my personal Gmail address.

Until the weekend I had trusted Google to keep this information private, just as I trust Vodafone not to provide a log of who I have called on the phone to anyone who asks.

But no – if you had clicked on my name in Buzz you would have been able to look at the list of people I had spoken with for yourself and, if you were trying to find out who had given me certain information, put two and two together.

Thankfully, by the time I launched Buzz the company had already started urgently disabling its own product to “fix” the problem and I am relatively confident – enough to write this article – that my source remains unnamed.

Had Google taken another 24 hours to act the situation may have been much worse.

But the fact Google responded to the problem quickly is not much comfort. If anything, it has only made me realise that giving away my private information is an even quicker process.

There is no harder evidence that Google has outgrown its old motto of “don’t be evil” than the launch of Buzz.

As far as failed product launches go it is not a “fiasco” or even a “train crash” but a case of extreme negligence that jeopardised the privacy – and in some cases wellbeing – of its estimated 176 million Gmail users.

And for what? To rush out a poorly planned and tested Facebook knock-off?

Even basic testing should have revealed that mixing private communications – email – with public broadcasts – social networks – was fraught with danger.

Google has promised users that it has heard the “concerns” they’ve raised, but it will take a lot more than that to regain their trust.

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    • BTS says:

      05:20am | 16/02/10

      Now see there’s your problem, right there…

      I thought everyone knew that when it comes to computer technology you never obtain the ‘first’.  Don’t get the first iphone, the first version of windows 7, the first anything.  Wait until the bugs have been ironed out. 

      The impatience of the ‘e-world’, got to have it NOW!

    • Justin says:

      07:31am | 16/02/10

      There’s nothing wrong with getting the first version, as long as it’s software upgradeable.

      In regards to Windows 7, if you had already ‘upgraded’ from Windows XP to Vista, then I wouldn’t have blamed you for lining up at midnight to get a copy of Windows 7.

    • oldskool says:

      07:32am | 16/02/10

      There’s nothing wrong with getting the ‘first’ generation of things. People just have to be prepared for quirks and issues that come up.

      PS - I’m running the ‘first version of windows 7’ - no problems here wink

    • BTS says:

      07:40am | 16/02/10

      Still haven’t got the Windows 7, they are always better six months later.  Bugs sorted, majority of the whining complete, much more user friendly.

    • Z says:

      08:48am | 16/02/10

      Seems to me that BTS needs to do some research on how “Buzz” was deployed…

    • Eric says:

      05:31am | 16/02/10

      Your comment:Anyone who ever trusted Gmail for privacy is a fool. The whole point of Gmail is to scrape user information.

    • Charlie says:

      10:19am | 16/02/10

      If I knew a journalist trusted Google to be maintainer of information I might confidentially disclose to them - well, I wouldn’t tell them a thing. The big difference between Vodafone (as was the example) and Google is that you pay money to Vodafone to provide you a service and they actually have a privacy policy; Google on the other hand provides a free means by which you can donate all your personal information for them to “leverage” however they choose.

      Seriously, pay a few dollars a month and hire a proper email provider.

    • Old Clive says:

      06:01am | 16/02/10

      For a journalist you are not very smart, don’t you know that everything is being watched these days and there is no such thing as privacy in cyberspace. ISP"S have a record of all our transactions and they are available to police and other bodies, as well as the armed forces keeping track of cyberspace. Telephones are more secure tham e-mails, not as convenient and not fully secure but not as loose as e-mails.

    • ChrisD says:

      09:08am | 16/02/10

      Tell me more about the moon landing crazy conspiracy theory man. But perhaps meet me in a darkened alley at a location I shall reveal to you in code via a series of blinking lights through your balcony window - because only a completely stupid person would actually “tell” someone something. THEY SEE EVERYTHING. Whoever they are.

    • Deep Thread says:

      10:13am | 16/02/10

      Actually, Old Clive has a point (several valid and good ones actually).  Common sense really.  Funny that ChrisD’s comments are reminiscent of/references to clandestine activities undertaken during the whole post-watergate affair and (despite being real) are being used to undermine valid statements with the suggestion that such activity is ‘loony’.  Topsy Turvy much?

    • ChrisD says:

      11:27am | 16/02/10

      Deep Thread, show me the clause in Gmail that says “we will track and broadcast every email you ever send to everyone publicly”. Or in any email program. The problem with Buzz is that Google blurred the lines between “so called” as you would have it private email communication, and public social networking communication ala Twitter. The Government isn’t keeping everything I write and putting it in a big file. Are they tracking this conversation? It’s a good thing you used a pseudonym and probably a fake email address too. Anyone else is clearly a complete idiot.

    • Kim says:

      02:44pm | 16/02/10

      To Chris D - The government keeps everything…..  They just haven’t invented a real filing system yet to find the information that they keep.  Oops - I think I used my real email address…NOOOOOOOO!

    • Vicki PS says:

      06:52am | 16/02/10

      One can only ask, what were they thinking?  Or perhaps what were they drinking?  Talk about your dumb ideas…

    • oldskool says:

      07:12am | 16/02/10

      I doubt it’ll take long for them to regain peoples trust. Look at facebook - people are sharing a plethora of very personal information there - and they don’t realise (or care?) that it’s open for the world to see.

      We live in an age of ‘openess’ - with people not caring about privacy. That social mindset is going to have to change if people are ever to be concerned about little ‘glitches’ like the google-buzz one had.

    • Kim says:

      02:47pm | 16/02/10

      The only reason they use facebook is because they probably don’t KNOW that it’s open for the world to see…...

    • bella starkey says:

      04:20pm | 16/02/10

      yeah, i’m pretty sure that they do know. kids aren’t as dumb as journalists you know. they’ve got thier shit figured out.

    • BensonBird says:

      08:39am | 16/02/10

      I downloaded win8 on this computer and quickly removed it, the other computer has win 8 and I don’t like it at all. My best and favourite browser is firefox.

    • Tamz says:

      09:10am | 16/02/10

      These comment all miss the point - Google isn’t letting its users opt OUT of buzz. It’s not about being the first to try something, it’s about a reliable and mature email service using your collected contacts to try and wrestle market share away from Twittface.

      And it’s silly to say that ‘Gen Y doesn’t care about privacy anyway’, like some articles have tried. I love my Facebook, but I’m never going to add my boss, my dad, my accountant, my doctor, my (future) clients. But I will send them all emails at some point, which is where Google/Buzz has really stuffed up.

      Social networks and email remain very separate things in the minds of even the most dedicated internet native.

    • fluffy says:

      09:28am | 16/02/10

      @ tamz - “Google isn’t letting its users opt OUT of buzz”

      down the bottom of gmail page.. is a link… it says “turn buzz off”

      that kills it.

      buzz is a crap idea. bad.. bad.. evil google.

    • fluffy says:

      11:23am | 16/02/10

      arrrggghhh - thanks for that Chloe.. :D

    • SN says:

      12:05pm | 16/02/10

      Been saying it for years, “Google is evil, people just don’t realise it yet”.

      I am confident that it led to their “Don’t be evil motto”

    • gavin says:

      12:28pm | 16/02/10

      Google have failed in their duty of confidentiality, and granted, that’s just wrong. But to be honest, I don’t see any problem with the idea of soources being outed. In fact, I don’t believe the media have the right to protection on behalf of their sources, especially as they rape and pillage the “Freedom of Information” law to misrepresent our Governments. The press demand Governments be publicly accountable (as indeed do the public) yet want to hide their accountability by protecting anonymous blabber-mouths.

    • fluffy says:

      12:55pm | 16/02/10

      you dont see a problem with sources being outed?  hehe ... wow.

    • gavin says:

      02:34pm | 16/02/10

      No I actually encourage it. If someone doesn’t want to say something in public to come back on them, don’t say it. I refer especially to ministerial staff who leak things to the press - they are in violation of their own duty of confidentially and if they, in good conscience wish to reveal something they shouldn’t, they should be entitled to lose their jobs or even face prosecution if they make falsifications. At the moment, the press seem to think they have a God-given right to know and right to misrepresent and hide behind their nameless faceless sources.

    • fluffy says:

      03:28pm | 16/02/10

      oh..i thought you meant in general..but if youre only talking about politicians leaking things to the media… oh well.. ya wont stop that.. they feed off each other

      youd still need some sort of evidence against you to lose your job just based on a leak to a journalist.. so.. mabye politicians, if they are going to call themselves honourable, should live up to that, and then they couldnt get into too much trouble.

      wikileaks.org is a fine example of news you wouldnt know if people in general, and maybe some of them are politicians, were not guaranteed some sort of anonymity.  its important i think. and you can hardly say to journalists, if their source happens to be a politician - they have to reveal their identity..  wouldnt be fair !

    • McCoy Pauley says:

      03:15pm | 16/02/10

      Obviously you never read the terms and conditions of gmail, did you…

    • Peter says:

      03:45pm | 16/02/10

      Great to see a journalist in the same situation that they, in the public interest, now have to put up with what they inflict on others.
      As McCoy Pauley and others have said - read the conditions.
      Journalists have been getting away with murder under this refusing to name sources crap.
      Great to see them getting a taste of their own medicine; i.e the RIGHT TO KNOW.

    • stephen says:

      06:34pm | 16/02/10

      The difference between Microsoft and Google is that they both want to exploit you (hey this is capitalism, right?) but only Microsoft seems compelled to torture you along the way.

      Surely the whole world knows that they only used ‘Don’t Be Evil’ because ‘Don’t Be Microsoft’ would have led to a trademark violation suit.  Dumbaxes.

    • A S says:

      05:16pm | 19/02/10

      Am I the only one seeing the b.s in this article? The content of this article directly contradicts the headline. This writer is just one more guy trying to get some publicity out of this issue. If you actually read this article, this is what it says: “I am relatively confident – enough to write this article – that my source remains unnamed.” This statement is a direct contradiction of his headline: “Google managed to reveal my sources”. How can Google manage to reveal his sources, while his source remains unnamed?


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