Google Buzz, Privacy, and Copyrights

There’s quite a bit of controversy going around on the Internet these days regarding Google’s newly launched social “conversation” and aggregator dubbed “Buzz.” The biggest issue I see people raise is that of privacy, especially when Google was auto-following people within an individual’s contact list. But there’s also been some concern over copyright and the inherent re-posting of content and information from the likes of Twitter, blogs, and other social venues. But what I don’t understand is why so many people are making such a big deal about this.

First, Google doesn’t know about anything you haven’t told it. When the service activated, it automatically picked up this blog, my twitter feed, and my Picasa photo account. But Google hadn’t scoured the web beforehand looking for sites and services that I might be linked to. Instead, it just auto-pulled everything that I’d personally added to my Google Profile. A profile that, I might add, is viewable by anyone anywhere. Even if you have the profile privacy settings turned on, the people in your contact list will still be able to access it. Therefore, if those people wanted to look through your stuff, they could.

Second, Google Buzz’s aggregation of content isn’t breaking copyright laws any more than Google Search does (which, it doesn’t). It’s already been legally proven that search engines may scour the web and catalog the content they find. This includes web pages, images, videos, contact information, and more. The fact that Google already includes “real-time” content from the likes of Twitter in it’s search results goes to show that Google’s social revolution was in place long before Buzz launched.

But even beyond that, I still fail to understand why some people are so concerned about their “stuff” being posted through Buzz. Content including text, pictures, videos, and so on can be posted including excerpts to content and thumbnails of photos and videos. Is this a big deal? Absolutely not! If you’ve posted something on the web, I have every right to point someone to it via a link. That’s how the web works! In Google’s case, that would include thumbnails that point at photos. If Google was actually republishing the full-size image via their own servers, then that would be a problem. But since Buzz doesn’t do this, you can’t call it copyright infringement. Also, consider traditional plagiarism rules–you may quote someone as long as it’s properly documented. Happens all the time in the academic and journalistic worlds. So what if you want to quote a picture or a video? The logical method of doing so would be to post some form of thumbnail that links back to the original source. This seems like the natural evolution of content.

Take this a step further and look at Facebook. If I post a link that points to an article on CNN, Facebook automatically scrapes the page for a description of it’s content in addition to capturing a screenshot of the linked page. They didn’t ask permission beforehand; they don’t own the content; I certainly don’t own the content even though I posted it; so does CNN have the right to contact Facebook and demand that the screenshot be removed? Maybe. But even assuming that they have every right to do so, they absolutely definitely could not sue Facebook for copyright infringement. The DMCA protects Facebook from prosecution in cases like this. Just like it protects ISPs who’s network has been used to pirate music or movies by a 3rd party. Just like it protects me from legal action if I were to show a clip from this year’s Superbowl in an academic setting. The DMCA is a big deal.

Jumping back to Google Buzz, the questions must be asked: a) is Google legally allowed to publish content from a user, and b) if that content is published, does the DMCA protect Google from prosecution of Title 17–the Copyright Act. I’m certainly not a lawyer and I don’t make any claims to knowing the ins and outs of the legal system, but due to my expertise in the professional computing world, I run into issues with copyrights and DMCA all the time. Fair use is a big deal and figuring out exactly what’s okay and what’s not can be difficult. Consulting a lawyer is almost a must these days as seemingly innocent people get sued for innocuous things. Hopefully most people don’t have to worry about that when it comes to posting things to Buzz.

So, I guess some of this is a matter of opinion, but if you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any number of other social networks, chances are you’ve already discarded much more privacy than Buzz could ever dream of taking from you. My advice is to embrace the social revolution and realize that even things you aren’t posting online about yourself might still be readily available. Just Google your name and see what comes up. You’ll almost certainly be surprised.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering–yes, this blog is published via RSS and yes, it will show up in my Buzz feed. In fact, maybe you’re reading it there right now!

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