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Buzz blows up in Google's face as privacy storm erupts over its new networking site

Google has been forced into a hasty revamp of Buzz, its new social networking service, after users claimed that it breached their privacy.

Only days after its launch, Google apologised for problems with the system -- intended to be a rival to the likes of Facebook and Twitter -- and said that its engineers were working hard to resolve the issues.

Google Buzz allows users to share personal messages, photos and videos. Hundreds of millions of users of the company's email system, Gmail, were automatically made part of the new social network when it was launched last week.

However, the system noted whom a user emailed and chatted to most often from their Gmail account, and made those frequent contacts their "followers" on Buzz.

One woman said that it meant an abusive former husband could now follow her every move. Journalists, cheating spouses and those who said that they were being harassed by former partners said that the system had caused problems as it could reveal with whom they were in contact.

Google said that it was making changes to the system, including a button that will allow people to turn off this feature, but the complaints led the internet firm to set up a "war room" at its headquarters, with key engineers drafted in to address problems.

The company also admitted that Buzz had not been tested adequately. An American woman, Harriet Jacobs, the author of a controversial blog about her personal troubles, protested at the privacy flaws.

She wrote: "I use my private Gmail account to email my boyfriend and my mother. There's a BIG drop-off between them and my other 'most frequent' contacts. You know who my third most frequent contact is? My abusive ex-husband."

Google is also under pressure from government agencies around the world. The Canadian authorities said that they were launching an investigation into the system, while US campaigners have expressed concerns about privacy.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, appeared to downplay the problems: "People thought that we were publishing their email addresses and private information, which was not true," he said.

"It was our fault that we did not communicate that fact very well, but the important thing is that no really bad stuff happens ... nobody's personal information was disclosed."

hnews@herald.ie


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