We’ve seen it happen a hundred times: popular website launches new feature, people either hate change or see it as an invasion of privacy, popular website blinks. Usually it’s Facebook (*cough*Beacon*cough*privacy changes*cough*), but this week it’s Google. Launched on Tuesday, Google Buzz became an opt-out feature in all Gmail accounts. Not a huge problem—until people realized that, by default, Google was publishing the list of people you email and chat with most frequently, with real-life implications.
Last night, Google took a step back and listened to the complaints. Yes, people could eventually opt out of sharing those lists—if they knew where to look for a single obscure checkbox. But now Google’s making it easy to keep your friend lists more private by default:
The first time you create a post or comment in Buzz, we ask you to create a limited public profile (at a minimum it’s just your first and last names). We do this so we’ll know what name to display next to your posts — and so the people you follow know who you are. As you do this, we notify you that the lists of people you follow and the people following you will be displayed on your public profile. You can view, edit, and even hide these lists. The lists of your followers/people you follow are not made public on your profile until after you go through this profile creation step.
They’re also listening to complaints about the old checkbox buried on the Edit Google Profile page, accessible through your Google profile itself (quick quiz: how do you get to your profile itself? Yeah, 90+% of us don’t know.). The old option is still in place, but Google has added a new opt-out during the set up process, making the option more prominent.
To further enhance your privacy settings, Google’s also making it easier to block anyone who follows you (before you could only block them after they’d created a public profile), and they’re also making a clearer distinction between the followers who will appear on your profile (those who’ve already created a public profile) and those who won’t—so your dear old auntie you email twice a month won’t show up in your public lists unless she creates a Google Profile.
Google says they have a number of improvements for Buzz in the works (which makes us wonder why they pushed it out now, then). While these privacy improvements are better, they still may not be enough for less-savvy web users. Google needs to make sure that even those of us who’ve already started using Buzz or created public profiles can easily find the option to hide or display our lists from within Buzz, not just when we use it the first time.
And if they could somehow 1.) make it stop double posting stories every time someone I’m following on Google Reader shares something (I don’t need to read it in Buzz and Reader) and other overlap issues, and 2.) actually make it useful, that’d be great.
Oh, and just as a side note, dear Popular Websites: Stop. Test new features with real users. Ask for feedback. Don’t force crap on us—let us opt in, and if we like it, we’ll encourage others to opt in, too. And think about the implications before you get the negative ink and/or lawsuits, for once.
What do you think? Is this Google’s equivalent to Facebook’s Beacon? Are the privacy updates enough? Will popular websites ever learn, or will they continue to force “features” on us that we really don’t want?