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Privacy group wins $500k from Google Buzz settlement

That's a whole lotta wholesome, EPIC beans

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is to be awarded $500,000 in a class action settlement over Google's Buzz social network.

EPIC brought the original complaint against Buzz to the US Federal Trade Commission in 2010, but failed to win settlement funds dished out by Google in March this year to a variety of privacy outfits.

The web advocacy group downplayed reports earlier this year that suggested it was pursuing $1.75m over the class action, following Mountain View's social network gaffe with Buzz, which Google unleashed in February 2010.

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director, told The Register in April that the pursuit of cash wasn't the "main point" in the objection it lodged in a California district court.

"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 at the time, "and that's the main point here."

However, $500,000 no doubt pays for a whole heap of principled, upstanding, privacy-protecting funds.

At launch Buzz 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 with legal action.

Groups that benefited from the original $8.5m funds Google was ordered to cough up following the ruling included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Brookings Institution.

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.

However, Google had claimed that EPIC's attempts to be awarded some of the settlement funds were worthless.

But Reuters reports that US District Judge James Ware disagreed with that argument yesterday, by saying there was no adequate reason to explain why EPIC had been excluded from the settlement.

"EPIC has demonstrated that it is a well-established and respected organisation within the field of internet privacy," wrote Ware. ®

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