Google contacts Buzz users over $8.5 million lawsuit

Google announced Tuesday that it will settle in a class-action lawsuit brought against it regarding Google Buzz.

Millions of Google Buzz users were contacted Tuesday by Google regarding a class-action lawsuit settlement stemming from an online privacy debate sparked by the search giant.

The lawsuit, brought against Google by a group of Gmail users, claimed that Google's social networking tool Google Buzz, which was introduced in February 2010, violated users' privacy by automatically enrolling users in Google Buzz and publicly exposing private user data.

The settlement, the details of which are archived at BuzzClassAction.com, states that Google will establish an $8.5 million "Common Fund" to "fund organizations focused on Internet privacy policy or privacy education," as well as to cover the plaintiff's lawyers' fees and other expenses. Google also promises to "do more to educate users about the privacy aspects of Google Buzz" (the email sent today is supposedly the first step in this education).

The Buzz Over the Lawsuit

Google Buzz is a social networking platform tied into Google's popular webmail client, Gmail. It was introduced in February, appearing as an extra tab in users' Gmail inboxes. Privacy concerns immediately arose because Google generated a list (based on Gmail contacts and who they used the service Google Talk with the most) of users to follow. This quickly sparked outrage with many users concerned Google Buzz revealed personal connections (without allowing users to "opt-in"). People pointed out -- the people you e-mail and chat with the most often are sometimes not the people you want in your social networking Web.

Settlement's Impact on You

If you're wondering what this means for you, the violated Gmail and/or Google Buzz user, the answer is: basically nothing. Gmail users are unable to receive compensation, as the settlement acknowledges that Google has changed Google Buzz in such a way that privacy violation is no longer an issue.

Affected users (all Gmail users in the United States who had the opportunity to use Google Buzz before November 2) have four options: Opt out, object, comment, or do nothing. If you fail to opt-out before December 6, you agree to be part of the case and can no longer sue Google regarding Google Buzz privacy after the settlement has been finalised. Any objections to the settlement must be brought by January 10, 2011.

The settlement was granted preliminary approval on October 7, and will be considered for final approval on January 31, 2011.

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Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

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