Buzz + Latitude = A Minefield for Google

Google is looking to integrate its Latitude and Buzz offerings, according to a story today in eWeek.com. Which means Buzz’s privacy problems may be about to get even bigger.

Google continues to draw flak from privacy advocates over Buzz, which launched last month. The company has scrambled to alter certain features and give users more control after some complained that their Gmail and Talk contacts were publicly released, and Google eventually admitted that the product had been rushed out the door.

Latitude, which launched last year, enables users to find friends and broadcast their whereabouts to others. Those aren’t revolutionary features, of course — Loopt and Useful Networks are just two that have gained some traction with similar friend-finding offerings. But Latitude’s tracking functionality is potentially more invasive than Buzz, which requires users to check in every time they want to update their location. And Google a few months ago sparked controversy by adding location alerts and history, features that inform users when their fellow Latitude friends are nearby and allowing users to see where they’ve been. (To its credit, Google wisely requires additional opt-ins for the new Latitude features.)

Integrating Latitude features with Buzz — which has millions of users — will further complicate a service that for some is already too confusing and who are likely to inadvertently broadcast their location information to Buzz-using friends even if Google does a good job of informing them that the two offerings sometimes work as one. Unless Google first makes Buzz much simpler, CEO Eric Schmidt will have a lot more opportunities to blame users for misunderstanding the service.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Doug88888

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