Google Buzz and Please Rob Me highlight internet privacy concerns

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Google Buzz had a class action lawsuit filed against it for violating customers’ privacy and a Web site named Please Rob Me, that uses Twitter and social networking sites to determine if someone isn’t home, is creating privacy concerns.

The Download Squad reports on Google’s legal troubles:

A class action complaint filed in San Jose federal court alleges that Google Inc. broke the law when its controversial Google Buzz service shared personal data without the consent of users. Although Google quickly responded to the privacy concerns and disabled the autofollow feature that connects new Buzz users automatically to their most frequently-emailed contacts Eva Hibnick, a Florida woman, filed the lawsuit on Wednesday. It is a local class action lawsuit as Hibnick’s case seeks to bring the complaint against Google on behalf of all Gmail users.

The legal complaint accuses Google of breaking various electronic communications laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Google turned Gmail “into a social networking service and that’s not what they signed up for, Google imposed that on them without getting their consent,” said Kimberly Nguyen, consumer privacy counsel with EPIC of Washington, D.C. Nguyen is quoted as saying, “The bottom line is, users should have meaningful control over their information.”

Given the lackluster reviews of Buzz it seems unlikely anyone is going to be using it anyway.

Also, a site named Please Rob Me is picking up a lot of buzz of its own.  Critics say it could help robbers and other unscrupulous people do unscrupulous things by using peoples’ tweets and messages from other social sites to identify houses and apartments that are currently vacant.  The Daily Mail reports that the site’s founders see it differently:

The Please Rob Me website says: ‘Our intention is not, and never has been, to have people burglarized.’

Instead they are trying to alert people to the danger of putting too much information on the world wide web.

The site channels information from other networking sites like Twitter into one place, listing ‘all those empty homes out there’ and providing a running total of ‘new opportunities’.

The information it provides on people’s movements is searchable by city or by their Twitter username.

It remains to be seen how long the site’s cofounders think they need to prove their point.  Regardless, anyone senseless enough to post personal information in such a public manner is asking for trouble, especially after the attention identity theft and information privacy concerns have received in recent years.