Google Buzz: Privacy, Stupidity, or Litigious Concern?

As I’m sure many of you are also Gmail users, you likely received the following email from Google:

Important Information about Google Buzz Class Action Settlement

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.

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.

The settlement acknowledges that we quickly changed the service to address users’ concerns. In addition, Google has committed $8.5 million to an independent fund, most of which will support organizations promoting privacy education and policy on the web. 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.

Just to be clear, this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation. Everyone in the U.S. who uses Gmail is included in the settlement, unless you personally decide to opt out before December 6, 2010. The Court will consider final approval of the agreement on January 31, 2011. This email is a summary of the settlement, and more detailed information and instructions approved by the court, including instructions about how to opt out, object, or comment, are available at http://www.BuzzClassAction.com

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This mandatory announcement was sent to all Gmail users in the United States as part of a legal settlement and was authorized by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Google Inc. | 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway | Mountain View, CA 94043

Privacy Concern

Did anyone actually suffer damage due to this? I don’t know. This is the claim, but this information is not available publicly as far as I can tell. I would like to hear specifically what the alleged damage was.

“What Are My Options?

  • EXCLUDE YOURSELF – This is the only option that allows you to bring your own lawsuit, or be part of any other lawsuit against Google about the legal claims resolved in this Settlement. You must mail your request for exclusion so that it is received no later than December 6, 2010.
  • OBJECT – Write to the Court about why you do not like the Settlement. Your objection must be received by January 10, 2011.
  • GO TO A HEARING – Ask to speak in Court about the fairness of the Settlement. Send your Notice of Intent to Appear so that it is received no later than January 10, 2011.
  • DO NOTHING – Give up your rights to sue Google about the legal claims in this case and thereby accept the terms of this Settlement.

Please consult the Notice for more details on your options.”

Stupidity Concern

Now, my first reaction isn’t to go: “Google, shame on you.” Logic and experience tells me this is more likely a user problem as is the case with 90% of any issues or support arising from any business or product. I have seen endless complaints about privacy, Facebook probably receiving the most heat. Regardless of anything, the golden rule is if something is private to you: don’t post it online.

I think a conspiracy theorist might be able to go on a rant here, but I think we’re all smart enough to know that if you send, receive, or store info via the internet no matter in what fashion or through what service, it really isn’t possible for it to be 100% private. Other issues, from the sound of it, were that people either ignored, attempted to, or just didn’t know how to adjust their privacy settings.

In any case, Gmail is a free service that people must agree to use. Google should be able to incorporate any new service without legal fear.

Litigious Concern

My next thought is something similar to my thoughts on the “You made me fat because I ate your food.” lawsuit that McDonald’s faced, which is in no way legitimate. It simply happens because in this country we can look at a big company with lots of money and find almost anything to sue them over and they’re more than likely going to just settle it than having to actually deal with it in court (being an unpredictable wildfire that it is).

So, what is everyone else going to do? With millions of people involved this will probably go in circles for the next 5 years and then what, we’ll all receive an undeserved, pointless check of $5?

UPDATE — This exact same thing has now happened with Vonage. I’m sick and tired of people abusing the legal system for financial gain. I’ve had my own legitimate legal issues involving police harassment (which unfortunately is a real concern in our society). But, you would think there would be fail-safes in the legal system against ridiculous claims. Unfortunately, there is not.

Anyone can sue anyone or any entity for anything. There really isn’t a review process either; it will go to court and it’ll be a matter of what can be proven and not proven or who has the most money. The law actually has nothing to do with morality, pettiness, or the actual truth. It’s a game that you can win or lose regardless of whether you are right or wrong.

Think of it this way, it’s all subjective and relative. We’ve all stubbed our toe at some point, right? Let’s say you stubbed your toe on the door at Starbucks because an employee came out carrying something and didn’t see you. Would you sue over it? If you would, you have no integrity, and I don’t want to embrace that part of our society.

A litigious person could sue Starbucks and probably get a nice settlement out of it. Where is the value coming from? You can’t argue value. The litigious person and their lawyer have decided that the emotional damage reaching all the way back to their abusive childhood is worth a million.

UPDATE — This is happening yet again with Netflix via http://www.videoprivacyclass.com/ and Google, who I just received a check from over another moronic class action lawsuit settlement. Will we ever have anything resembling common sense in this country?

  • Things are getting rough in America. In cases like this I wonder if people are really after their privacy or if it is just the money that counts.