Good news, everyone*! Remember back in February 2010, when that Orwellian Internet search/cloud computer/advertising tech giant automatically signed us up for its newfangled social media platform, Google Buzz? And remember how mad we were when Google automatically added everyone that you’ve ever emailed with any frequency to your contacts list, thereby revealing your sordid Gmail correspondences to all who know you, or have ever forwarded you a warning about superheated water in the microwave? Well, it turns out that we were suing them and it turns out that we won! Kind of. Google sent out an email yesterday notifying all Gmail users that they were settling the class action lawsuit brought against them. If you got that email, then you probably have some questions. Here are the answers:
Q: Hot dog! How much cash do we get?
Q: …uhh, nothing?
A: Yeah, then you get nothing. Sorry, dude.
Q: What?! Then who’s going to pay the attorneys?
A: Google’s got that one. They are putting $8.5 million into a Common Fund that will pay for court costs and legal fees. The rest will go towards the aforementioned privacy education organizations.
Q: Weak. Why were we so mad at Google again?
A: Because when Google pre-selected your “followers” and showed all of your followers to the whole world, they could have blown our cover as philanderers, spies or journalists. Or as SFGate, put it, Google Buzz could “aid stalkers, jeopardize journalist sources, or hint at affairs…”
Q: Argh! I am so steamed! Is Google Buzz still like that?
A: No. In fact, we complained so loudly at the outset, that they went back, said they were sorry, and fixed the “auto-following” thing just four days after Buzz was launched, and months before the lawsuit was settled. Plus, they tightened up their user options and made it so your Picasa Web Albums and Google Reader items aren’t shared automatically. According to the class action settlement, that made everything all better on their end.
Q: But the damage is done! Don’t I deserve some money?
A: Probably not. According to the settlement, “few, if any, Class Members suffered compensable actual damages” and “a pro rata distribution of the fund to the Class would not be feasible due to the size of the Class.” In other words, you probably didn’t lose your job, suffer severe emotional distress or have your house burned down by an angry mob because of Buzz. Besides, if they split that $8.5 million up among all of Gmail’s approximately 176 million monthly users, you’d get like half a cent after fees.
Q: But I did suffer compensable actual damages—I was an undercover journalist writing a story about cheating on my husband, and he found out about both of those things, which lost me a $5 million book deal!
A: Oh snap. You’re a pretty terrible person, but I guess you have a point. Well, here’s what you gotta do: You have to mail a letter to The Garden City Group Inc. saying that you want to be excluded from the class action settlement In re Google Buzz User Privacy Litigation, No. 5:10-cv-00672-JW. If you don’t get that letter there by December 6, 2010, then you lose your right to sue Google over this Google Buzz gaffe.
Q: Wow, that sounds like a lot of trouble. Well, what if I want to stay included in the class action, but I don’t like something about it?
A: Then you can file an objection telling the court why it shouldn’t approve the class action lawsuit. The bad news is that you have to send the letter to three different places. The good news is that if you indicate that your letter is a “Notice of Intent to Appear,” then you can go to the Fairness Hearing on January 31, 2011, at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division and vent your complaint about how Buzz ruined your life and how the settlement should be renegotiated. You don’t have to do this, however—you can just voice your objection in writing and leave it at that.
Q: Eh, you know what, I stopped caring about halfway through this controversy. I’d rather just do nothing. Is that okay?
A: Yes it is. If you do absolutely nothing, like the vast majority of Gmail users likely will, you’ll be included in the class action settlement. You’ll get whatever benefits come from it (i.e. none) and you’ll be barred from suing Google over this in the future. That means if someone brings another class action against Google with a juicier settlement, then you won’t be able to get in on it. The likelihood of this happening, however, is slim.
So, that’s basically all you need to know about the Google Buzz class action settlement. If you do decide to take action, good luck, and you’ll definitely want to check out www.buzzclassaction.com.