Google Agrees To Hand Slap for Revealing Info in Buzz

Google has reached a settlement in the class-action suit over privacy issues relating to its Buzz social-networking program. Under terms of the settlement, the search giant will establish an $8.5 million Common Fund to support organizations focusing on Internet privacy policy or privacy education, in addition to covering lawyers’ fees.

The company also agreed to “do more to educate users about the privacy aspects of Google Buzz.” Google said it has made changes to the program that clarifies users’ options, such as control over privacy settings. There will be no cash payments to users, and final approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will be considered on Jan. 31.

‘Many Benefits’

Gary E. Mason, the lawyer for the plaintiffs bringing the class-action suit, said the settlement “provides many benefits to class members, including providing a significant amount of money to nonprofit groups committed to educating users about Internet privacy,” and making sure that users can join Buzz without compromising their privacy.

Launched last winter as an app within Gmail, Buzz revealed the contact lists and other private information of some users to other Gmail users. Lists of friends were automatically created from Gmail contacts and the most-frequent e-mail contacts, even though some might not be friends.

At the time, the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Marc Rotenberg told The New York Times there was concern that “Gmail users are being driven into a social-networking service that they didn’t sign up for.” Google said the auto-friend feature was intended to get people started.

Google modified the program so that Buzz simply suggests which users might be friends, and it also created a Buzz tab in Gmail to allow users to opt out of Buzz completely.

‘Making an Exception’

The company is estimated to have 170 million Gmail users worldwide, and, appropriately enough, a…

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