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Federal judge approves Google Buzz privacy settlement

A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] Tuesday approved a settlement agreement [text, PDF] in a privacy lawsuit against Google [corporate website] over its Buzz [website] social networking application, awarding damages to privacy groups previously left out of the original proposed settlement. Judge James Ware approved the revised settlement awarding $500,000 to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [advocacy website] which had filed a complaint [text, PDF] with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] about Google Buzz, prompting an FTC lawsuit. The proposed settlement [text, PDF; JURIST report] forced Google to place $8.5 million dollars into a common fund to distribute to organizations that provide education regarding Internet privacy. The class counsel submitted a list of organizations, but others were able to apply for inclusion under cy pres, meaning awarding them damages was within the interests of the settlement. The court modified the list adding EPIC, saying:

the Court does not find good cause to exclude EPIC from the list of recipients of the cy pres funds. EPIC has demonstrated that it is a well-established and respected organization within the field of internet privacy and that it has sufficiently outlined how the cy pres funding will be used to further the interests of the class.
The court also modified the organization list under cy pres, adding the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University [official website], also awarding it $500,000.

The lawsuit alleged that the Buzz application exposed private user data, including contact lists, to other Gmail users. Google stressed that the settlement did not mean that the company was admitting liability for the privacy breach and that the company has since resolved all privacy issues with the Buzz application. In March, the FTC settled a similar privacy lawsuit [JURIST report] against Google over charges that the Internet giant breached consumer privacy rights and was misleading during the launch of Buzz. The FTC alleges that when Google launched Buzz through its web-based email, Gmail, users were automatically enrolled without their consent and were unable to decline or leave the social network and that the Buzz privacy controls were confusing. Google has recently faced a number of allegations of violating privacy laws, both in the US and abroad. In November, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] confirmed that it is investigating [JURIST report] Google to determine if it violated communications laws when its Street View [JURIST news archive] vehicles inadvertently collected private user data, including passwords and URLs, over WiFi networks. In October, the FTC ended an inquiry [JURIST report] into the company's data collection through Street View cars after Google assured the FTC that it did not use any of the collected data and announced that it was committed to compliance with privacy laws [text], instituting new training on privacy principles and appointing a new director of privacy.

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