Privacy watchdog rebukes Google for Buzz
Canada's privacy commissioner has chastised Google for not consulting with her before launching its Buzz social-networking service.
"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," Jennifer Stoddart said in a statement Wednesday.
"My office has a variety of resources available to help companies build privacy into their products and services. When companies consult with us at the development stage, they can avoid the problems we've seen in recent days."
Google Buzz, launched last week, integrates Twitter and Facebook-like communications and media-sharing functions into users' Gmail accounts. When users turned the service on last week, many of their most emailed contacts were automatically added as public followers, which prompted privacy concerns. Critics said the service inadvertently exposed contacts and communications to anyone following the user on Buzz.
Google apologized for the snafu over the weekend and made several changes to privacy settings, including the removal of the auto-follow feature. The company said it would also make additional changes over the next few days.
The privacy commissioner's statements add to the furor around Buzz. In the United States, the Electronic Privacy Information Center on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that seeks constraints on the service.
Stoddart said she reminded Google officials in a conference call this week that their company, like all multinationals, must take Canada's privacy laws into account before launching a product here. She said she has asked the company to explain how it has addressed the privacy concerns raised since the launch of Buzz.
Google Canada said it releases a large number of products and that pre-briefing the privacy commissioner on each one isn't practical.
"We're not going to call her all the time," spokeswoman Wendy Rozeluk said. "We brief her sometimes when it's relevant. In this case we didn't."
She added the company is working quickly to get more privacy controls added to Buzz.
"Giving our users choice and control over their info is very important to us," she said. "In this case we responded immediately in making changes. It's still early and we have a long list of improvements on the way."