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Privacy group downplays Google Buzz cash grab

Unfair that outfits against Mountain View got nada, says EPIC boss

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A US web advocacy outfit has downplayed reports that suggest it is pursing $1.75m over a class action settlement between privacy groups and Google, following Mountain View's social network gaffe with Buzz.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center's executive director, Marc Rotenberg, told The Register that "money isn't the main point" in the objection lodged in a California district court earlier this week.

"The Google lawyers did not want funds to go to the organisations that were actually standing up to the company on the Buzz matter," he told us, "and that's the main point here."

Groups that did benefit from the funds included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Brookings Institution.

Outside of the filing, seen by El Reg, EPIC hasn't made any further public statement about its beef over the class action lawsuit settlement with Google.

On Wednesday 30 March, it applauded a separate settlement between the Federal Trade Commission and Google over Buzz, which stated that the web kingpin would be subjected to a biennial privacy audit for the next 20 years.

EPIC, which brought the original complaint about Buzz to the FTC, described that move as "far-reaching," at the same time as it was filing its objections against the class action suit settlement in court.

"It is the most significant privacy decision by the Commission to date. For internet users, it should lead to higher privacy standards and better protection for personal data," said EPIC.

Reuters noted today that EPIC had requested $1.75m from the settlement, after the group represented eight online privacy organisations in its court filing earlier this week.

A separate brief written on behalf of three private plaintiff objectors by lawyer Joshua Furman show that other class members opposed the settlement for similar reasons to EPIC's.

"There are very few national organisations truly focused on online privacy, and fewer still that play a significant role in public policy and consumer protection actions directed at protecting privacy rights from commercial—not governmental—interests," reads Furman's filing.

"While both industry-funded and non-industry-funded groups are potentially worthy candidates for funding many reasons, we believe it is imperative for the purposes of the settlement and the benefit of the class that organisations which typically do not receive substantial industry funding be apportioned the bulk of the funding in this case."

In November last year, Google contacted all its Gmail users via an email message in which it confirmed it had reached a settlement in a lawsuit over its privacy-lite Buzz social network that was bolted onto everyone's mailboxes by default in early 2010.

"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," Google wrote at the time.

It added that some money from a $8.5m fund would be used to distribute awards to internet privacy groups. Additionally, Google confirmed the cash would be used to pay the lawyers and the people who sued the company.

Google unleashed Buzz in February 2010. At launch it automatically exposed users' most frequent Gmail contacts to the public interwebs. Users were given the option to hide the list from the public view, but many complained that switching the social network off was tricky as a checkbox to do so wasn't prominently displayed in their mailbox.

Days later, Google shifted the location of the checkbox in an effort to silence the complaints. It also changed the way Buzz handled user contacts. But those tweaks came too late for some, who responded in litigious fashion. ®

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