Nov
03
2010

Google Settles Class-Action Lawsuit regarding Buzz

In February 2010, Google launched a social add-on to its Gmail web mail service, dubbed “Google Buzz”. Buzz is a social networking and messaging tool that Google made to be used with its Gmail e-mail service, and is similar to Twitter in style and function. However, the launch was mired in controversy after default settings in the Buzz service led to many users being automatically enrolled in Buzz, and were also automatically opted-in to allow the service to reveal data about you publicly – including users’ most frequent Gmail contacts – without enough user consent.

Many people threatened to sue Google for the damage this caused to people’s privacy, and a class-action lawsuit against Google was officially filed not long after, alleging that Google instigated a serious privacy breach. Now, Google has proposed a settlement which, if approved by the judges, will see the end of this case and a moral victory for all the users potentially affected.

Google has lately emailed all its GMail users to explain the consequences on the suit, so we’ll let Google explain what this suit means for the users:

Important Information about Google Buzz Class Action Settlement

Google Buzz <noreply-buzz-classaction@google.com> 2 November 2010 19:30

Google rarely contacts Gmail users via email, but we are making an exception to let you know that we’ve reached a settlement in a lawsuit regarding Google Buzz (http://buzz.google.com), a service we launched within Gmail in February of this year.

Shortly after its launch, we heard from a number of people who were concerned about privacy. In addition, we were sued by a group of Buzz users and recently reached a settlement in this case.

The settlement acknowledges that we quickly changed the service to address users’ concerns. In addition, Google has committed $8.5 million to an independent fund, most of which will support organizations promoting privacy education and policy on the web. We will also do more to educate people about privacy controls specific to Buzz. The more people know about privacy online, the better their online experience will be.

Just to be clear, this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation. Everyone in the U.S. who uses Gmail is included in the settlement, unless you personally decide to opt out before December 6, 2010. The Court will consider final approval of the agreement on January 31, 2011. This email is a summary of the settlement, and more detailed information and instructions approved by the court, including instructions about how to opt out, object, or comment, are available at http://www.BuzzClassAction.com.

Although the case relates only to users of GMail in the U.S., Google Buzz is available to GMail users worldwide, so this is effectively a victory for every user of GMail around the globe who may have had their privacy breached. Sadly, it is only a moral victory – as mentioned in Google’s statement, no compensation is going to be given to the users, but instead money will be paid to privacy-protection organisations. It may also interest some that the $8.5 million proposed settlement (roughly £5.27 million British Sterling under the current exchange rate) makes up only 0.1% of Google’s estimated revenue, so is really just pennies to them. This, of course, is assuming that the proposed settlement is actually accepted – though there is not yet reason to believe it won’t be.

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