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February 17, 2010

Google. No Configuration Needed

Google usually releases products that don't require a lot of configuration. Sometimes Google's services try to be clever and use some existing data to derive the settings. Here are some examples of features that would normally require user input, but Google decided that it's not necessary:

1. Google Desktop has a small feed reader that shows the latest posts from your favorite sites. Google decided that it's too complicated to manually subscribe to each site, so the feed reader subscribes to all the sites you visit.

2. Google Chrome lets you customize your favorite search engines, but it adds all the sites you visit to the list of search engines, assuming that you've used their search pages. "Google Chrome automatically saves a list of the search engines you've encountered while browsing the Web. For example, if you visit, the browser auto-detects and adds the YouTube search engine to your list of search engines that you can access from the address bar," explains Google.

3. Gmail automatically adds email addresses to your contact list. If you've sent an email to someone, Gmail adds the email address to the contact list. "Email addresses are automatically added to your Contacts list each time you use the Reply, Reply to all, or Forward functions to send messages to addresses not previously stored in your Contacts list. If these addresses don't appear immediately, try waiting a few minutes or signing out of your account and signing back in," mentions Gmail's help center.

4. Gmail Chat's default settings help you add many people to your buddy list without having to invite them. "If there are other Gmail users whom you frequently email, you'll be able to chat and see each other online without having to send an invitation. Gmail automatically determines which contacts you'll be able to talk to without having to invite each other," informs Google Chat Help. It's not clear Google defines "frequently", but 2-3 email messages are enough to have a new buddy.

5. The initial version of Google Reader's friend sharing subscribed to the shared items of all your Gmail Chat friends. Even if the shared items were public, they weren't automatically sent to other people unless they subscribed to your feed. At that time, many Google Reader found the new feature intrusive or only annoying. "I think the basic mistake here (...) is that the people on my contact list are not necessarily my "friends". I have business contacts, school contacts, family contacts, etc., and not only do I not really have any interest in seeing all of their feed information, I don't want them seeing mine either. This is a major privacy problem," explained a user.

Google addressed the issues eight months later. "You've given us lots of feedback on the way our experimental sharing features work and we heard you loud and clear: you want more control over your sharing. We've been working hard to create a more flexible way to let you choose who to share with; you can now manage a Friends list within Reader, separate from your Gmail chat contacts."

6. Google Buzz's original implementation made the same mistake as Google Reader's friend sharing, but the changes affected more people. As Gmail's blog admits, Google Buzz automatically subscribed you to some of your Gmail contacts and automatically connected Google Reader shared items and public Picasa Web albums. "With Google Buzz, we wanted to make the getting started experience as quick and easy as possible, so that you wouldn't have to manually peck out your social network from scratch."

Sometimes features that don't require configuration have side-effects that might affect your user experience or your privacy. Gmail clutters the contact list and makes it difficult to manage, Gmail Chat automatically determines your friends using basic heuristics, while Google Buzz starts to share your public photos and favorite blog posts with the people automatically added to Gmail's chat list. A clever service might save you time, but it shouldn't make important decisions for you.


  1. well I agree with you,only people that has so many enemy would find that this google privacy flaw with buzz are making their life more miserable and sadly many people has lots of the point is to try to make a world better living by having more friends and not enemies. :-)

  2. That's why I quickly got out of BUZZ. If they fix it, I might try again. As is, it sucks.

  3. You certainly should have mentioned Google Video Chat plugin which saves users from the hassle of endless webcam / mic / speaker setup ...

  4. BUZZ was a major attack on privacy. It couldn't have been a simple blunder, it must have been intentional. Why? I have not idea. But I removed Buzz as soon as I realized what it was doing.

  5. I would never use a system that adds all sites/feeds/addresses to my configuration. Just leave me alone and let my decisions be mine!

  6. Well said Alex and Sammael. Buzz attacked the privacy out of the blue. From what I am reading elsewhere also, Buzz was released in a haphazard manner cos of the deadlines. I sincerely hope this is not true for Google!

  7. I absolutely hate 'automatic settings'. Not only does it add confusing when I first try a service/product (who DOESN'T like working with a blank slate?), but it also makes me feel less in control and makes organization/setup much, much more difficult and a process.

    A prime example of this is Google Contacts. Seriously, adding contacts just because I've emailed them before (or they emailed me) is utterly stupid.

  8. I have to disagree with most everyone above. Pissers and complainers. So Buzz added people to your stream you didn't want? And vice versa. Someone could see your email address? Big deal.

    You're not that important. No one cares about your email address or whom you're subscribe too.

    Gmail & Buzz are free. And you can turn both off, or change the settings, if you don't like the default implementation.

    But, "attach my privacy"? Jesus. Get a life.

  9. I have to disagree with most everyone above. Pissers and complainers. So Buzz added people to your stream you didn't want? And vice versa. Someone could see your email address? Big deal.

    You're not that important. No one cares about your email address or whom you're subscribed too. Gmail has a fantastic spam filter, and any major spam operation already got your gmail address a long time ago.

    Gmail & Buzz are free. And you can turn both off, or change the settings, if you don't like the default implementation.

    But, "...attack my privacy"? Jesus. Get a life.

  10. I think Google should mind much more the privacy of its users. But "automatically" and "default" seem to be their favorite words when it comes to implementing new services. I am still a Google-fan...BUT....I WILL watch them more carefully now after this Buzz-fuzz. Google warned.

  11. @ Michael Paulding Thomas

    No one cares about your email address or whom you're subscribed too

    Wrong. YOU don't care about it. Others do.

  12. AS for your email address as far as I can tell from looking around and trying it that is still kept private unless you email the person back after they send you a message but thats your issue not Goggle's. As for adding contacts to your list after just one email, I wish Google would add a category "Not My Contacts" so you could delete the ones you don't want easier, rather then hunting through your contacts list. I'm also not such a fan of auto settings... How do I stop it sharing my GT message on BUZZ ???

  13. @ard sonneveld
    So i assume that you are running your own e-mail servers and web scrapers too?
    3rd party e-mail service is still a 3rd party that you do not know.
    Blindly trusting them is surely a bad thing for people who care about privacy, right?
    You already never had care for your privacy by trusting 3rd parties, period.

    This reminds me of when Google were being quoted about the whole "don't do bad things on search engines" note as if it was TOTALLY BRAND NEW information.
    What he said applies to every single company who offers a service.
    Then you have people ranting on about how "Google is evil" blah blah, "i'm switching to Bing!".
    Seems people forgot who actually defended their search results and who happily handed them over.

    Anyway, i quite like some of the no-config of Google services, but sometimes it just plain doesn't work.
    And sometimes, it just leads to there being an awful lack of options in general.
    Google Chrome is a HUGE example of this, more so because they (the devs) want to keep all Chrome browsers having the same physical layout.
    One of the major reasons people love Firefox is the ability to customize the interface in any way you want, to be able to drag and drop any part of the GUI around*, or hide it almost entirely behind a context menu. (* apparently not allowed with statusbar items anymore... )
    Note that Chrome is my main browser, but since Google was pushing the small interface pitch to everyone back at launch, Firefox already won before Chrome was even thought about.
    I really wish they'd reconsider it, but i don't see it happening any time soon.

  14. @ard sonneveld

    You misquoted me and said:

    No one cares about your email address or whom you're subscribed too

    Wrong. YOU don't care about it. Others do."

    Of couse YOU care about YOUR email address, as I care about my own. My point is that no one ELSE cares about YOURS. You're not that important.

    Sometimes people act as though they are an international spy, or a famous celebrity who is being chased by paparazzi. If one is truly that concerned about someone else finding out whom your "following" or vice versa, then probably no Internet service is appropriate for them.

    Zuckberg and Schmidt are correct when they state that privacy is dead, at lest on the Internet.

  15. The article says " but it adds all the sites you visit to the list of sear" which I beleive is incorrect. What I've learnt is that once you do a search on a page, Chrome detects that is was a search and adds it as a possible search engine to be usable from the adressbar (omnibar).

    I'm quite happy with auto configuration, since my goal in life isn't to sit and micromanage computers, though I agree with what many say that auto-config needs more and more fine-tuning nowadays. After auto-adding too much contacts, friends, rss-feeds it gets harder to remove them since you'll have to excuse yourself and explain why you keep changing stuff. So googlers reading here, spread the word: less aggressive auto-configuration please!

  16. By the way, I'm using Buzz right now and my profile seems to be disabled. Strange, huh?

  17. Auto configuration should be in the most protective mode to the user, and if someone wants a less protective configuration, just go to the settings and change them. There are too many people out there and very near you that doesn’t understand very well what they are doing with a social network.

    I want to share here with you some of my concerns about privacy with Buzz and with social networks in general. The problem is that with social networks, people share not only their own staff, but things that involve other people too (like photos), and they do this in an automatic way to "all their friends" because of the simplicity of not start selecting people (and many times making them public without knowing), and sometimes that staff shared with so many people can generate a real-life problem to the people that appear in that staff (maybe in that moment, maybe some day in the future). That can go from labor problems to bulling to family violence (and I know some real cases), and that’s because the world is not so big and the circles are very narrow. The problem is not the C.I.A. or someone in the other part of the world but your boos, your violent ex-husband, etc.

    I have post some ideas in the google moderator page about this privacy issues that i want to share with you. I'm a bit amazed that some people have vote against them since they all would be opt-in features in the general settings, so it's not like "remove that feature" suggestion, that if you like that feature, i understand that you vote against it, but opt-in settings doesn't remove anything to anybody. In any case, this is a free on-line world, so just do whatever you want.

    1) Public Buzz as a separate option:

    Instead of public a private option, put "all my followers" or "some" and in a separate place a check in for public post. Most people think public="all my followers" and make public things that don't want.

    2) Anonymous public profile

    Let me have an anonymous public profile but with info to my contacts. I would be able also to use different info to different groups of contacts.

    3) Anonymous contact list of contacts:

    Let me an option to appear as anonymous in my contacts list of contacts to other people. I don't want to be able to be find in my friends list of contact by my boss (for example)if my friends make public their list of contacts. My boss would see the list and in the end anonymous (5).

    4) Blur my face:

    If someone posts a photo with me in it, use the face recognition system to blur my face to the followers that i don't have contact with and of course do the same if the post is public. I don't know if Buzz has face recognition (facebook does), but google has the technology in picassa and they applied it in street view. Of course my friends would see the photo with no blur, and if in the photo is a person that i don't know and he has choose to blur his face, i would see his face blurred.

    5) Hide my name:

    The same method applied to the photos but to my name. If someone post a buzz with my name or nickname in it, change my name with ****** to the followers that i don't have contact with and of course do the same if the post is public.

    Now, just vote if you like them or call me a privacy paranoid, but please, don’t vote against them if you don't like them, you don't win anything.

    Thanks for your attention and forgive my English (it's not my native language).


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