Bad Buzz

18Feb10

With all the privacy issues blowing up around Google Buzz this week (see here and here and here) and the grand site Please Rob Me, which points out how easy it is for stalkers, robbers and other unsavory types to know when you’re not home and where you are when you’re not home, the privacy issue of social networking has been pushed from the niggling sidelines straight into the limelight. Perhaps in the quest to make ourselves feel famous, or be famous, or to feel that we matter to something or someone, we have neglected the deliciousness of our own privacy.

For many people this is a pressing issue – and one that would be instantly disquieting and obviously so.  Ugh, Google Buzz – I don’t want to be connected to my 3rd most frequently contacted person (i.e. an abusive ex). And thank you, Foursquare, for telling my creepy date from last week that I am not home – and where exactly my home is located. Cheers for that.

The Network for Surviving Stalking states that 6% of UK men and 8% of UK women are stalked each year. On top of this, 37% of “aggravated stalking” cases against women are carried out by an intimate and an enormous 59% were carried out by people known to them. Only 7% were carried out by a stranger. Presumably, in stalking cases, they were also emailed. Frequently. So it makes sense that you would want to, you know, vet the people who can view your profile rather than just assuming those who email you the most are also the ones you would most like to connect with.

But no. “Let’s take the work out of creating a network,” some engineer testers decided. Given that women outnumber men as users of Facebook and Myspace in every age demographic (see here and here) presumably a priority would be ensuring that a significant number of “key demographics” (read: people between the ages of 18 and 35, but particularly women) test the product. Unfortunately, it looks as though many of the developers are still Gender Blind – and by that, I mean that they do not consider women at all, even where they are only testing and developing a product with men and for men.

The Google Buzz hullabaloo highlights the urgent need for tech companies and developers to seriously consider their female customers and develop with them in mind. Otherwise, the possibility of losing the trust and business of female consumers could be disastrous for a new product.

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