Google mulls stand-alone version of Buzz

Google co-founder Sergey Brin participates in a panel discussion in Mountain View, California February 9, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc said it may create a stand-alone version of its Buzz social networking product but won’t separate Buzz from its Gmail service, a linkup that has spurred controversy over privacy.

Google, the world’s No.1 Internet search engine launched Buzz earlier this week in a bid to tap into the fast-growing social networking market dominated by companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Buzz allows users to broadcast messages and share photos and videos with friends and colleagues online, similar to Twitter and Facebook. But unlike those services, Buzz is built directly into Google’s Gmail and the product automatically creates each users’ social network based on the person’s most-frequently emailed contacts.

“We have considered, among all the other features that we add to Buzz in the future, to create a stand-alone experience in addition to it being in Gmail,” Google spokeswoman Victoria Katsarou told Reuters on Friday.

In the days since the product launch, a number of online blogs and publications have argued that the Buzz-Gmail link creates a privacy problem since the Buzz contact network is publicly viewable by default and could expose people’s private contacts.

On Thursday, Google announced a couple of changes on its corporate blog designed to address some of the concerns, including making it easier for Buzz users to keep their contacts list private.

The blog Search Engine Land quoted Google Vice President of Product Management Bradley Horowitz as saying the company was considering removing Buzz from Gmail, but Google’s Katsarou said that that was not the case and the blog later reported that Buzz would remain in Gmail.

Google also said in its blog post on Thursday that more than 9 million posts and comments have been created on Buzz since its launch and that tens of millions of people have “checked Buzz out.”

Gmail is the world’s third most popular Web email service, with 176.5 million unique visitors in December, according to comScore, behind Microsoft Corp’s Windows Web email services and Yahoo Inc’s email.

Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; editing by Carol Bishopric