Canada's Privacy Commissioner on Wednesday challenged Google to clarify how it has addressed the privacy issued raised by the launch last week of the company's Buzz social networking service and chided the company for failing to consult her office prior to the product's launch.
"We have seen a storm of protest and outrage over alleged privacy violations and my Office also has questions about how Google Buzz has met the requirements of privacy law in Canada," Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a statement.
Google says that it has already talked to Stoddart about Buzz and the changes it has made to the service. "We're always happy to hear from privacy commissioners in Canada and in other countries," a company spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "We regularly brief them on new products and features either before or just following launch, both as a courtesy to them and as a way to get valuable feedback on our products."
Google launched Buzz as a way to turn Gmail into a social network. Aware that some of the beta testers for Google Wave, the company's unreleased real-time social messaging platform, don't use the service much because of the absence of an existing social network, Google's Gmail team wanted to jump-start the lengthy process of building network connections by treating existing e-mail contacts as publicly viewable social networking friends. It was a decision that backfired.
In response to what Stoddart characterizes as "a storm of protest and outrage," Google twice changed the way Buzz works to accommodate privacy expectations.
Though Google's swift response shows that the company learned something from Facebook's foot-dragging following the controversy over its discontinued Beacon service, the changes in Buzz were nonetheless insufficient to satisfy critics of the company's privacy practices.