Privacy Commissioner challenges Google Buzz over privacy concerns

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has asked Google Inc. to explain how its new social network, Buzz, has addressed privacy issues since its recent launch.

She also reminded Google officials in a conference call this week that their company, like all multinational corporations, must abide by Canadian privacy laws when they launch products in this country.

“We have seen a storm of protest and outrage over alleged privacy violations and my office also has questions about how Google Buzz has met the requirements of privacy law in Canada,” said Stoddart.

Stoddart also expressed disappointment that, despite the clear and significant privacy implications, the California-based corporation failed to consult her Office prior to unveiling Buzz in Canada.

“My office has a variety of resources available to help companies build privacy into their products and services. When companies consult with us at the development stage, they can avoid the problems we’ve seen in recent days.”

Buzz was added as a feature on Google’s Gmail, which reportedly has 146 million users worldwide, last week.

Some Gmail users have alleged that they were automatically – and without adequate consent or prior notice – assigned a network of “followers” based on the people with whom they communicated most often using Google’s e-mail and chat services. They also alleged that, by default, this list of “followers” was included in a widely available online profile.

Google has since issued a public apology and introduced changes to try to address the widespread criticism. The company has said that further changes will be introduced this week.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy and the protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

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