Google Settles Buzz Class Action for $8.5 Million

Lora Bentley
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Six Privacy Principles Google Forgot


Google launched its Buzz social network in February, and almost immediately users and privacy advocates were speaking out. The problem? The network's auto-follow feature was turned on by default so that everyone in a user's Gmail contact list was added as a Buzz follower, whether the user wanted them to be or even realized they were.


Suddenly estranged husbands and boyfriends knew what was happening with their wives and girlfriends just because their e-mail addresses had yet to be removed from Gmail contact lists. Or someone whom the Buzz user had contacted once about a business transaction knew way too much about his or her personal life because they were automatically following each other on the service.


The Federal Trade Commission looked into several complaints and some users even filed lawsuits. Google did what it could to correct the problem, tweaking the service several times to give Buzz users more control over their follower/following lists. And now, a few short months later, the company has also reportedly reached a settlement with users who sought legal redress.


According to TechTree, the search giant has agreed to pay a total of $8.5 million to settle the class-action lawsuit filed by Harvard Law student Eva Hibnick. Thirty percent will go to attorney fees, each plaintiff will receive $2,500, and the remaining funds will be paid to an organization that focuses on safeguarding privacy rights. Google is also obligated to do a better job of educating users of their privacy rights.


The same day the settlement was made public, Google associate general counsel Mike Yang wrote a blog post explaining how the company would be tweaking its policies to achieve more transparency. He said, in part:

Most of our products and services are covered by our main Google Privacy Policy. Some, however, also have their own supplementary individual policies. Since there is a lot of repetition, we are deleting 12 of these product-specific policies...for example, since contacts are shared between services like Gmail, Talk, Calendar and Docs, it makes sense for those services to be governed by one privacy policy.

As for the main Google policy, he said the company was working to make it less redundant and translate as much of it as possible into everyday English. But he cautioned it still wouldn't be a good beach read. "I am, after all, still a lawyer," he said.

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