Saturday, October 15, 2011

Google's Buzz Is Dead

Buzz is dead. Google said Friday it was shutting down the social-networking product to focus on its new service, Google+.

Buzz had been launched in 2010 as the software Relevant Products/Services giant's social-networking vehicle. But it quickly became embroiled in privacy issues that led to an investigation and settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and an international uproar.

'Learned a Lot' from Buzz

In a posting on The Official Google Blog, Vice President for Product Bradley Horowitz wrote Friday that Buzz and the Buzz API will be shut down within a few weeks. "We learned a lot from products like Buzz," he wrote, "and are putting that learning to work every day in our vision for products like Google+."

He said that while users "obviously won't be able to create new posts" with Buzz following the shutdown, they will be able to look at existing content on their Google Profile, and download it using Google Takeout.

Buzz was built around the company's popular Gmail, and it enabled the sharing of updates, photos, videos and other material and information Relevant Products/Services with friends. But it caused an uproar when the automated process revealed users' e-mail contacts and friends, without their permission. With Buzz, lists of friends were automatically created from Gmail contacts and most-frequent e-mail contacts, even though some might not be friends.

At the time of the controversy, the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Marc Rotenberg told The New York Times that there was concern that "Gmail users are being driven into a social-networking service that they didn't sign up for." Google said the auto-friend feature was intended to get people started.

40 Million Users

Buzz got the buzzer about privacy violations not only from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, but such other countries as France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

In a letter to Google, privacy officials in those countries wrote at the time that Buzz, "in essence," took Gmail, a private one-to-one e-mail service, and turned it into a social networking service "without adequately informing Gmail users about how this new service would work or providing sufficient information to permit informed consent decisions." The officials said this violated a basic principle that users should be able to control their private information.

In the FTC settlement last fall, Google agreed to establish a $8.5 million fund to support organizations focusing on Internet privacy policy or privacy education, in addition to covering lawyers' fees.

Chief Executive Larry Page said this week that Google +, which was launched over the summer, now has more than 40 million users. By comparison, social-networking giant Facebook has more than 800 million users.

Buzz's demise is only one of the products that Google is shutting down. Horowitz also said that Code Search, which had been designed to help searches for open-source code, and Jaiku, a product purchased in 2007 that allows users to send updates to friends, will both close in January.

Additionally, social-networking features on iGoogle will also end at that time, and the University Research Program for Google Search, providing API access Relevant Products/Services to search results for some academic institutions, is ending. And Google Labs closes Friday, with its experiments becoming part of product efforts.

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