Home Google Says Buzz Privacy Complaints Are False, Settles for Cash Anyway

Google Says Buzz Privacy Complaints Are False, Settles for Cash Anyway

When Google released Google Buzz in February, there was a backlash. The backlash became, in turn, a lawsuit. That lawsuit has now been settled. In a note to users, Google explained the settlement.

“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.”

The backlash and subsquent lawsuit centered on Google’s default signing up of every Google user for the service without permission. We described the complaints in our February post.

“The most common complaint among many is that when Google automatically signed Gmail users up for the service, it auto-followed the people they talked with the most, publicly, exposing connections users would otherwise reasonably expect to remain private. Other complaints range from how easy it is to hack Google’s numeric profile URL, revealing a user’s Gmail address, to revealing a user’s geo-location.”

The settlement is a turnaround if not an outright a contradiction. Just this last July, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Guardian CEO Alan Rusbridger:

“Buzz is an example where when we introduced it, the user interface we used, made it appear that we were releasing to your friends and to people you thought were your friends, your private email information. This was not in fact true, but the appearance drove people crazy. Now we fixed it in four calendar days, but it was an example of a launch error. It was difficult to recover from that and I think it was an example of and a good reminder to us of how sensitive people are to the questions that you’re asking, and I think we’ve learned from it.”

Given that the objections to Buzz were, according to Schmidt, the fault of the incapacity of the users, one does have to wonder at the settlement. A letter sent out by Google today clarifies that the cash is not yours and mine.

“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.”

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