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10 nations criticize Google privacy misstep with Buzz

In the past year, Google has made a remarkably fast foray into just about every corner of technology: cellphones, broadband services, digital publishing, navigation and social networking to name a few.

But after a couple high-profile kerfuffles that exposed consumers’ personal information, several privacy regulators around the world told Google in a letter Monday to slow down and ensure basic protections before rolling out new products.

“Privacy cannot be sidelined in a rush to introduce new technologies to online audiences around the world,” the letter to CEO Eric Schmidt said. It was signed by Jennifer Stoddart, the privacy commissioner of Canada, and her counterparts from France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

At issue was the launch of the social networking application Buzz, which was designed to build off Google’s e-mail system, Gmail. When launched, people on the contact lists of Gmail users became automatic followers for those who agreed to try to application. Some consumers also found their contact lists were made public.

“This violated the fundamental principle that individuals should be able to control the use of their personal information,” the commissioners said.

Google apologized to users and revised its application to make it more private.

“Of course we do not get everything 100 percent right -- that is why we acted so quickly on Buzz following the user feedback we received,” a Google spokesman said. “We have discussed all these issues publicly many times before and have nothing to add to today's letter -- instead we are focused on launching our new transparency tool which we are very excited about.”

The commissioners specifically requested:

-- Google collect and use only a minimum amount of personal information to achieve the purpose of a product or service.

-- Google provide clear and unambiguous information about how personal information is being used

-- Create private-protective default settings that are easy to use

- Ensure all personal data is protected

-- Give users simple options for deleting accounts

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 20, 2010; 11:17 AM ET
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