buzz off

6 Ways Google Buzz’s Terrible Privacy Constraints Can Screw the Queers

Debuting last week, Google Buzz is the search giant’s new product competing with Twitter and Facebook. With tens of millions of Gmail accounts, Google harnessed its massive user base to create its own real-time feed of status updates, photo uploads, and link shares. It also completely violated Gmail users’ privacy. By automatically enrolling them in Buzz, Google turned what you thought were your personal communications and relationships into a bulletin board for all the world wide web to see. Some 72 hours into their experiment, Google finally offered a way to put the kibosh on unintended oversharing. But for many, it was too late.

Yes, there was the story about how Buzz exposed a woman’s home address and workplace to her abusive ex, but there will be hundreds more unreported stories about how Buzz screwed over its users by not placing stricter privacy controls on the system. More unfortunate, however, is many Gmail users don’t even understand how Buzz works (including us, until we researched this post), and may not actually know just how much of their personal data was revealed. So while you go about figuring out how to disable Buzz’s default data stream (hint: log on to Gmail, scroll to bottom, click “turn off Buzz”), allow us to share a few gay-specific ways Buzz fucked you over.

Buzz just outed you. Are you a teen who frequently emails with a counselor at a LGBT youth group? Are you a closeted adult who emails with your town’s well-known gays? Because Buzz forces you into auto-following your most frequent contacts, anyone who views your Buzz stream will see that the people you’re communicating with the most are big homos. So much for that “straight masc jock” image you were going for.

Your web-based cheating was just exposed. Yup, heteros have to deal with this one too, but given The Gays’ proclivity to find sex online, your Gmail chats and emails with your web hookups just became part of the public’s peek into your private life, for the same reason as above. Though if you’re using the same Gmail account for emailing your partner and your trick, you probably deserved this.

Your anonymous identity was just revealed. Even if your Gmail username isn’t something readily identifiable (i.e. “AFGuy1969”), if you’re using the same account to cruise the web for sex play as well as send out resumes, your worlds just collided in your Buzz stream, and anyone who sees it can check out your followers, and who’s following you. This includes Manhunt johns and potential employers.

Your mom just learned about your interest in gender reassignment surgery. Because Buzz auto-links your Google Reader account, any links to blogs or websites you’ve favorited or shared with friends via the RSS product just went public. Including links to surgeons in the area and hormone therapy treatments.

Your party pics are now a public exhibit. By linking Buzz to your web albums on Picasa (another Google unit), your photo uploads are now part of your stream. If you thought it was bad that a future boss might see you’re being followed by seven guys with “HotBttm” in their screennames, imagine how much worse things will get when your father accidentally clicks the “Buzz” tab in his Gmail and sees you getting handsy on the dance floor with his boss.

Your stalkers just found you. Whether you have a casual admirer that you’re trying to avoid or, like the woman above, a serious fucktard of an abusive ex, Buzz just exposed the link to the homepage of your new favorite restaurant. You know, the one you just updated your Gmail status with so you can meet your college friends for happy hour? Bring pepper spray.

BONUS UPDATE: The government just identified you as a gay activist in a country where homosexuality is illegal. When Malawian officials are arresting civilians for merely putting up pro-gay posters, you can imagine what would happen to gay activists in unfriendly countries when their identities are suddenly shared — as are their entire network of contacts. Foreign Policy points us to this other Buzz-worthy fiasco: When authoritarian governments suddenly have access to all of your private networking tools that you assumed were kept from their prying eyes. If you’re emailing with Western contacts, or even your neighborhood activists, you’ve got a whole new set of problems.