Google forced into second Buzz backtrack

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Google has announced fresh changes to its Gmail-based Buzz social networking tool amid a continuing public backlash over privacy.

Gmail and Buzz product manager Todd Jackson was forced to take to the Google blog for the second time in three days to announce new measures to tweak Buzz's account setup procedure in the face of ongoing public criticism.

"We've heard your feedback loud and clear, and since we launched Google Buzz four days ago, we've been working around the clock to address the concerns you've raised," Jackson wrote on Saturday.

Initial tweaks on Thursday made it easier to hide contact lists, block followers and see what information is made public, but criticism continued to pour in, centred around the fast-tracked account setup system that saw contacts and followers chosen automatically.

The latest changes see Buzz's automatic follow system switched to a suggestion model, where Google comes up with a list of friends it thinks you'd like to follow but gives you the option to deselect them before starting to use the service.

"With Google Buzz, we wanted to make the getting started experience as quick and easy as possible, so that you wouldn't have to manually peck out your social network from scratch. However, many people just wanted to check out Buzz and see if it would be useful to them, and were not happy that they were already set up to follow people," Jackson wrote.

Jackson went on to appear to justify Thursday's attempts to persist with an automated setup with the option of opting out, suggesting that the fault lay with the opt-out option being too hard to find, rather than the system being flawed in the first place.

"On Thursday, after hearing that people thought the checkbox for choosing not to display this information publicly was too hard to find, we made this option more prominent. But that was clearly not enough," he wrote.

"So starting this week, instead of an auto-follow model in which Buzz automatically sets you up to follow the people you email and chat with most, we're moving to an auto-suggest model. You won't be set up to follow anyone until you have reviewed the suggestions and clicked 'Follow selected people and start using Buzz'."

While new users will experience the new setup procedure immediately, it may take weeks for existing Buzz users to be given the chance to revisit their preferences.

Jackson also announced that publicly shared Reader feeds and Picasa albums would be disconnected from Buzz, and a tab would be added to Gmail settings allowing users to hide or disable Buzz altogether.

"It's been an exciting and challenging week for the Buzz team," Jackson concluded. "We quickly realised that we didn't get everything quite right. We're very sorry for the concern we've caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We'll continue to do so."