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Google did something seriously wrong
By Dave Winer on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 7:55 AM.

"Privacy" seems like such an abstract concept.  permalink

So your privacy was violated. Get over it.  permalink

A picture named buzz.gifHere's what happened. When Google rolled out Buzz last week they activated an unknown number of users and chose people for them to follow automatically based on who they email most frequently with. Presumably these people had to also be on Gmail. And the list of people you follow is public. Therefore the list of people you email with most frequently is now public. They are now trying to close this hole as quickly as possible. But the damage is done, people have to realize that -- the information was already disclosed. You can close the door after the horse gets out but that doesn't get the horse back.  permalink

This never should have happened. But now that it has, it requires a CEO-level apology and statement of contrition and an explanation of what policies he's putting in place to be sure this never happens again.  permalink

That has not happened, and does not appear likely to. permalink

What if it were Eric Schmidt's privacy. I wonder if he'd feel differently. I wonder if he uses Gmail, and if he does, did they reveal the list of people he emails most frequently? I can think of all kinds of problems that might cause, with the stock market, or the SEC, partners, wives, despots, girlfriends. I imagine Nick Denton at Gawker would like to see that list, and that Schmidt would not want him to. permalink

We all have those kinds of concerns. People might get the wrong idea if they saw the list of people I email most frequently. Or they might get the right idea. permalink

Sometimes as I'm entering a message into Gmail, I wonder if the ethics of Google prohibit them from reading the mail. Sometimes I email with execs at companies that compete with Google. I think "They'd probably like to know this." I wonder if they look. permalink

Yet Google, so far, has only said they're sorry for the "concern" they've caused. That shows that they're not owning up to the breach they caused. They can't possibly be so stupid as to not understand what they revealed about users of Gmail. It's just the kind of weaselly response to a building crisis that PR pros tell you not to do, that covering up will only make it worse when people realize what's really been going on. But that assumes a competent and vigilant press. That would be too much to assume in the case of Google and its coverage.  permalink

The Don't Be Evil smokescreen was pure brilliance. As Michael Gartenberg said on Twitter, if Microsoft had done what Google did, there would already be lawsuits. It would be a scandal of huge proportion.  permalink

The NY Times won't call it a breach of trust by Google. Instead they attribute the claim to "privacy experts." I raised this point, and predictably people say that the Times shouldn't make factual statements about companies who screw up anywhere but in editorials. That's ridiculous. A fact is a fact, and belongs in reporting. It's a fact that Google revealed sensitive information about millions of users, and now they're scurrying to try to cover it up. And the press is helping them buy time. Why? I have no clue, but I don't like it.  permalink

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