Buzz Backlash Shows Compartmentalization Is Undervalued

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buzzADOTAS – Every day when I log into my personal Gmail account, that Google Buzz insignia stares at me from just below the number of unread emails. I’ve never bothered to customize my dashboard, so the multicolored mascot stands out on a landscape mainly comprised of inoffensive blue and dead white.

One friend told me he can’t get enough of it while another told me that she is overwhelmed and can’t figure out how to turn it off. My apprehension with the service doesn’t lessen as I hear sensationalist reports about stalkers and con artistry.

And that paranoia of corporations instilled in me through digestion of so many dystopian future books and movies screams its way to the forefront when CNET blogger and creative adviser Chris Matyszczyk suggests that Buzz is the latest example of a defective technology released to manipulate consumers wills into corresponding with tech lords’ business goals.

“It is in the financial interests of Facebook and Google to have as much information made public as possible,” Matyszcyk said to USA Today. “The gaucheness with which both Facebook and now Google Buzz have gone about such a noble, selfless pursuit of their future is quite staggering.”

Google has scrambled to make several privacy fixes to since introducing Buzz to 176 million users last week, including 86ing the auto-follow function and decoupling Buzz from Google Reader and Picasa photo albums. A Buzz tab has also been added to the Gmail Settings menu. Google has posted several apologetic blogs that assure users the company will keep making improvements based on feedback.

But apparently that’s not enough mea culpa for some folks. According to the SFGate.com, a group of anti-Buzzers have filed suit in San Jose federal court citing violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a law from 1986 regulating how digital information is accessed and shared online. I’m surprised that only one privacy advocate — the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)  — has taken its beef with Buzz to the Federal Trade Commission.

Google turned Gmail “into a social networking service and that’s not what they signed up for,” EPIC Consumer Privacy Counsel Kimberly Nguyen told the Gate. “Google imposed that on them without getting their consent.”

She has a point — the thinking behind Google Buzz is that Gmail could be a hub for nearly all social networking, an ambition suitable for the egos of big G. But was it what users really wanted?

Compartmentalization is not always a bad thing — not just obsessive-compulsive people like keeping certain objects or tools separate. Gmail is a resource I’ve come to rely on as my central correspondence tool. A one-stop social shop? Hmmm… Not really what I desired.

Let’s take a bit of a leap to the iPad and mobile devices. I have a Palm for work but my personal cell is a neat little thing called a Samsung Juke — it’s skinny and compact, barely taking up any room in my pocket. I’ve looked into getting a Droid, but the cost of a data plan has made me hesitate — also,  “one device to do it all” doesn’t appeal to me.

But I am excited about the iPad — it’s a highly useful portable computer with enhanced iPhone features, but I can disconnect from the madness of the information age whenever I choose. Every iPhone user I know seems chained to the thing and can never disconnect from the digital world… And the panic attacks I’ve witnessed when an iPhone battery is about to die — not pretty.

So I have a phone that I can almost always be reached on (and or not if I choose) and a computer with which I can connect when I choose. On the web I have email I use to correspond with some notion of privacy and a social network in which I share and share away.

To paraphrase The Offspring, sometimes you gotta keep ’em separated.

Perhaps I’m haunted by the notion that the technology is controlling us, rather than the preferable opposite. Sure, I might have watched “Terminator” and “The Matrix” one too many times, but I still don’t feel like a Luddite for avoiding that “Try Google Buzz!” button.

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