Do you remember that Google was sued for privacy violations when they first released their Google Buzz? I’d forgotten all about it. Buzz was introduced in February of this year and was considered Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter.
During the first few days, Buzz revealed users personal contacts by default, and many people were very upset about this violation. They soon corrected the problem by offering more controls over the information shared, and an easy way to opt out of the service, but the law suit continued despite this change.
Today, I received an email from Google, announcing a settlement for this class action suit. Here’s what they said:
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.
I would guess that the lawyers are the only ones making money on this deal. That’s true of many class action suits. I’d be surprised if any of the defendants collect a penny. So far, the money is going to (non-profit?) organizations to help them educate people on privacy issues.
I think this loss is a win for Google. It’s hard to imagine that losing a few million dollars hurts them. It may help them, as long as they keep this privacy lesson in mind when they release a new product.