Andrew McLaughlin, previously the Mountain View search company’s
chief policy executive, unwittingly revealed his exchanges with former
colleagues when the Google Buzz service launched in February, according
to a story this week by Breitbart’s Big Government.
His Google Profile Page, like that of millions of other Gmail users,
included a default list of "followers" automatically selected by the
service based on the contacts he e-mailed or chatted with the most in
the past. The list, which was visible to those followers, featured at
least 28 Google employees, including senior lobbyists and lawyers at the
company, the blog reported.
"The appointment was troubling when it was announced, but signs that
McLaughlin is continuing a cozy relationship with his former employer
while serving in the top White House Internet policy job are even more
disconcerting," said John Simpson, consumer advocate for Consumer
Watchdog, in a statement. "The public has a right to see exactly what
sort of messages have been exchanged with his former employer and
Of course, much of this communiation may simply have been a person
keeping up with former co-workers. It’s also possible some of the
contacts popped up based on McLaughlin’s correspondence while still at
Google, as Buzz picked up the most frequent contacts over time, not just
in the weeks before the launch.
Privacy groups widely criticized Google after the introduction of the
service, arguing the default setup could inadvertently aid stalkers,
jeopardize journalist sources or reveal one’s psychiatrist.
"Maybe now that Google’s own privacy and that of a former executive
have been compromised, the company will finally understand that privacy
matters to consumers," Simpson added.
Google took quick steps to address many of the initial complaints
about Buzz, replacing the auto-follow feature with auto-suggest within four
days of the launch, among other changes.
"When we realized we’d unintentionally made many of our users
unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to
address their concerns," a spokesperson said.
In addition to revealing McLaughlin’s followers, Breitbart’s Big
Government also displayed a series of communications he had with Google
staffers about Buzz via Buzz.
Here’s one exchange:
"Google exposes the people you e-mail most, by default, to the world.
That violates my sense of expectations — I expect the list of people I
e-mail most to be kept private."