The Buzzkill of Google BuzzGoogle Buzz is a new social networking tool that Google unleashed upon its unsuspecting Gmail users last week. I say “unsuspecting” because suddenly, without warning or notice, this new “feature” appears to Gmail users as a part of their email program. This was an unprecedented way to launch a product — in disguise right in the middle of another product.

Google, despite generating billions of dollars in revenue every year and employing the supposedly brightest minds in the industry, didn’t foresee the backlash that would occur. Apparently, despite its ridiculous hiring process and wading through oceans of money, Google can’t hire people who understand privacy.

But this isn’t the first time Google has had a lack of empathy or understanding about privacy issues. This is the same company that for months argued it simply could not make its privacy policy a link on its homepage, because it would somehow denigrate the user experience. (Meanwhile, they’re fine with adding an odd fade-in effect on the same homepage, as an “enhancement” to the user experience.) Google finally relented, but it felt like a battle that shouldn’t have needed to be fought in the first place — why wouldn’t you make your privacy policy easy to find and read?

So here’s the problem that Google Buzz created — suddenly, people were connected with one another in ways they never intended. And Google didn’t care.

Google Buzz suddenly — and without warning — exposed people’s email addresses that you corresponded with, not just to you, but to all the other people in your Google-created social network.

So anyone who uses Google’s email service for confidential or private correspondence suddenly had the fact that they were even corresponding with Person X or Person Z exposed to everyone. If even for a short time, the extent of this violation of individual’s privacy and trust is both astounding and astonishing.

This has an even greater significance for the millions of health and mental health professionals who use Google’s Gmail service not only for personal correspondence, but also for professional emails to their patients. Suddenly patients could “see” one another, and the fact that a therapist or doctor was even corresponding with their patients was exposed to the world.

In one swift move, Google blew away the confidentiality and privacy of hundreds of thousands of patients. Google — including Google Health, which apparently was never consulted about this move — should be ashamed of itself. And didn’t even seem to notice or care that first day it was launched.

Health data and mental health data exist in more than just formal record keeping services and software. It exists in millions of relationships around the world. Relationships carried out increasingly on social networks like Facebook, and of course in email services we always thought were private and secure. Facebook did the same thing back December when they — also without warning to their users — changed the default sharing options for the data you had shared with them. Suddenly thousands of therapists’ and doctors’ private and personal data was shared and available for all of their patients to see. Talk about boundary issues.

In an effort to make a marketing splash with its new social network, Google Buzz, Google has demonstrated it has little respect for the privacy and confidentiality of its customers. Because of this, Google can not be trusted for any kind of health or mental health related records.

Psych Central recommends that patients and professionals not use any Google services related to their mental health or health care, including Gmail and Google Health. Use alternative data and communication services — especially those created just for confidential and private communications (e.g., Hushmail, s-mail, or a specialized service provider like our partner, LivePerson.com).

Only time will tell whether Google will eventually “get it” with regards to the sanctity of patient confidentiality and data. But for now, their actions speak very clearly.

 


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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Feb 2010
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2010). The Buzzkill of Google Buzz. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/02/17/the-buzzkill-of-google-buzz/

 

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