February 17, 2010, 9:57 PM — As the initial excitement over Google Buzz turned to fears of poor privacy safeguards, Google scrambled to tweak the social networking service and satisfy its users. The result is a Google Buzz that's fundamentally different than the one Google unveiled at its Mountain View headquarters last week.
Yes, you can still use Google Buzz to chat with friends and acquaintances and to share news stories, photos and videos. When I say "fundamentally different," I don't mean that the things you can do in Buzz have changed, but Google's rationale for the service's existence are now tarnished.
I watched Google introduce Buzz last week via a live video feed, and one of the points the company continually stressed was that Buzz is a "Google approach to sharing." Bradley Horowitz, Google's vice president of product marketing, used an anecdote of how Web search morphed from hand-picked links to algorithmic indexing, implying that Google Buzz would do the same thing for social networking, making sense of its vast amounts of information.
In other words, Google Buzz is controlled by computer calculations, not by hand. There are a few ways Buzz accomplishes this, but foremost is its auto-selection of people to follow, based on your 40 most frequent Gmail contacts. This was the first bullet point Google brought up when introducing the service, but it's also the feature that's come under fire the most during the past week.
Turns out, people don't want their social networking connections determined by algorithm. People complained that Buzz could expose a cheating spouse or an employee who converses with the competition. One user said Google Buzz had inadvertently reconnected her with her abusive ex-husband. The Electronic Privacy Information Center complained to the government. Google, in turn, caved and converted its auto-follow system into an auto-recommendation system. You're back to hand-picking the people you wish to follow.