Google has agreed to allocate about $8.5 million to Internet privacy and policy organizations as part of a class action settlement involving its social networking experiment, Buzz, according to BBC News. The settlement acknowledges that Google has made many changes to Buzz to ease privacy concerns and the company will also make additional efforts to teach users about privacy on Buzz. A federal judge has given the settlement preliminary approval and the US District Court in San Jose, California, will consider final approval of the proposed settlement on January 31, 2011.
The privacy lawsuit was filed after Google added the social hub Buzz to Gmail back in February 2010. Buzz let its users follow their frequently e-mailed contacts, including distributing and commenting on shared content (status updates, links, photos, and videos). This list of e-mails could automatically be made public, which enraged users and privacy experts alike. "People I frequently e-mail" doesn't necessarily equate to "friends I want to follow" and a class action suit was formed, arguing that Google violated privacy rights by automatically adding Buzz to Gmail without making it clear what information would be shared and with whom.
Part of the legal settlement required Google to e-mail Gmail users in the US to inform them of the development (ironically, the e-mail ended up in the Spam folder). Google's choice to set up a privacy fund, however, means it won't offer compensation to individual users of Gmail; there are too many users in the settlement and too few suffered any actual damages for Google to bother paying them directly. You can read full terms of the agreement over at BuzzClassAction.com/FAQ. Also, the e-mail sent to Gmail users in the US is included below:
Google rarely contacts Gmail users via email, but we are making an exception to let you know that weve 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.
This mandatory announcement was sent to all Gmail users in the United States as part of a legal settlement and was authorized by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
Google Inc. | 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway | Mountain View, CA 94043