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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Google sued for alleged privacy violations

As a user of a UC Davis Gmail account, you likely received an e-mail on Nov. 2 regarding the class action lawsuit filed against Google Inc. for its social networking program, Google Buzz.

The plaintiffs allege that Google automatically enrolled Gmail users in Google Buzz, publicly exposing data without permission. One immediate concern was the inclusion of users’ most commonly used contacts in a list of “users to follow”. As many users noted, however, the people you communicate with over e-mail the most are often not the ones you desire to be included in a social networking website.

A preliminary settlement was reached at an Oct. 7 hearing, under which Google agreed to establish an $8.5 million common fund to support organizations focused on internet privacy policy or privacy education. The money will also be used to cover lawyers’ fees and other expenses accrued by the plaintiffs.

Though Google refutes the accuracy of the allegations and denies having broken any laws, they are accepting the terms of the settlement.

“We are satisfied with the agreement and are glad to move forward,” said a Google spokesperson. “We have always been committed to offering users transparency and choice in Buzz and all our products, and will continue to work together with users to provide the best experience possible.”

Google notified Gmail users of the agreement via e-mail, addressing the fact that it made changes to Google Buzz following its February 2010 launch.

“The settlement acknowledges that we quickly changed the service to address users’ concerns … 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.”

The e-mail also stated that Gmail account holders would not be able to file for compensation under the settlement.

Rather, users in the United States who had the opportunity to use Google Buzz before Nov. 2 have four options: exclude yourself, object, go to a hearing or do nothing. Only by excluding yourself will you be able to file your own lawsuit against Google. Users are given until Dec. 6 to file a request for exclusion.

As residents of northern California, UC Davis students have fairly easy access to the fairness hearing, which will take place Jan. 31 in San Jose. It has been noted that the hearing may be moved to a different date without additional notice. Any written objections or a notice of Intent to Appear must be received no later than Jan. 10.

The Google Buzz lawsuit brings to the surface other issues of Internet privacy, especially when it comes to social networking websites.

“Basically when you put information on the Internet, except for with banks, assume people will see it,” said computer science professor Matt Bishop. “For example, Facebook.com regularly changes what its privacy settings means. So what is private today may not be private tomorrow. That goes for e-mail too.”

Bishop also noted a problem particular to university internet security.

“The security that’s there can’t block people outside from looking in,” he said. I shouldn’t say the security is lax, but it’s a different kind of security. If this was a bank, a lot of things that are done wouldn’t be allowed.”

Bishop’s final word of advice: “Basically, if it would embarrass you to be on the cover of the New York Times, don’t put it on the Internet.”

MELISSA FREEMAN can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


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