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Google changes Buzz privacy settings--again

After much howling from users, Google announces significant privacy changes to Buzz over the weekend. Chris Matyszczyk wonders: Why couldn't Google have anticipated the uproar?

Perhaps you, like me, have a friend who is always fond of the obvious. Perhaps that friend doesn't work at Google.

Having launched its new Buzz service last week, melding some mimicry of Twitter and Facebook, Google seemed to take a page straight from the latter's Beacon of customer service by creating start-up settings that were anything other than comfortable, anything other than private.

This seemed obvious to many. Now, having been buzzed by feedback from annoyed users and commentators, Google announced on its blog Saturday that it will make radical changes to the Buzz start-up experience over the next few days.

In a post by Gmail and Google Buzz Product Manager Todd Jackson, Google says that it has been listening "loud and clear."

Firstly, and really quite importantly, Google confesses to being taken aback that people were rather upset to be already set up with a group of people to follow. Jackson's post suggests that Google had never really considered people might just want to check Buzz out first before having a terribly wise machine already pick out some followers and make that list public.

Thursday, the company made the option of a little more--well, a little-- privacy more obvious. Oh, yes, a slightly more visible button telling you that you can, should you want to, switch the darned thing off.

Google is dropping the auto-follow model from Buzz and is moving to an auto-suggest model. Google

Some hairshirted consideration seems to have kicked in since Thursday. Now, Google is announcing that it is moving to an auto-suggest model rather than an auto-follow model.

Which some might find thoughtful and others might find merely human.

Google is pushing the human boat out even further into the Pacifying Ocean. It will give those who acquiesced to Google's sleight of software another chance to review those automatically chosen to be followed, just to check whether there might some unwanted ex-husbands, ex-girlfriends, or slightly insane stalkers that slipped through the net.

Google will also pull back its technological tentacles from your Google Reader shared items and public Picasa Web albums. Jackson excuses this faux pas by suggesting the company was only connecting things that were already publicly available, but it seems to have suddenly been struck by the notion that people would like to make that decision for themselves.

Finally, your Gmail settings will now be adorned by a Buzz tab. Yes, you will be able to disable Buzz completely, or at least hide Buzz away from your Gmail. Google will even provide a link so that at the very beginning you can make the decision about what level of participation in Buzz you would wish, if any at all.

While Jackson's post is full of mea culpas, or perhaps nostra culpas, surely one question might trip its way around your individual and collective noggins.

Wasn't this outcry entirely predictable? Weren't these settings merely the behavior of machines--or, at least, machineheads--who didn't stop to think for one moment how real people might react, how real people choose to behave? There seem to be far too many people in the tech world who are fond of the notion that privacy is no longer the social norm.