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Google announced that it has received preliminary approval for its $8.5 million settlement of a class action brought against Google Buzz, the Gmail add-on that tried to turn the company's online email service into a social networking tool.

The settlement received preliminary approval from federal district court Judge James Ware on October 7, and Google revealed the news with a press release on Tuesday. "We are satisfied with the agreement and are glad to move forward,” Google said in a statement. “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 also took the unusual step of contacting all Gmail users via email. "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," the email read. "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."

Ordinary users cannot receive compensation from the class action. "Just to be clear, this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation," Google told Gmailers. In settling the suit, Google will create an $8.5 million fund that will be used to distribute awards to organizations "focused on" internet privacy or privacy education. It will also be used to pay the lawyers and the people who sued.

The suit consolidates several civil cases filed over Google Buzz, which was rolled out to roughly 32 million Gmail users in February. By default, Buzz automatically exposed users' most frequent Gmail contacts to the public interwebs. You did have the option of hiding the list from the public view, but many complained that the checkbox that let you do so was less than prominently displayed.

Days later, Google agreed to move the checkbox to a more prominent position, and it changed the way it handles user contacts. But the suits came nonetheless.

The court will decide on final approval for the settlement in January. ®

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