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    Google Settles Class Action Privacy Lawsuit; Firm Declared in ‘Significant Breach’ of UK Law

    There’s a lot of news concerning Google today. The online services giant sent an e-mail to all Gmail users announcing that it has settle the class action privacy lawsuit filed after the disastrous launch of its social-networking service Google Buzz. The company changed some of the privacy settings available in Google Buzz after numerous concerns were raised about privacy issues after the initial release of the social-networking service. In its e-mail to Gmail users with the subject line: Important Information about Google Buzz Class Action Settlement, Google said:

    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.

    ——————————————————————–
    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

    In the UK, the Guardian reported that the Information Commissioner has declared that Google committed a “significant breach” of the country’s Data Protection Act when it collected personal data through its Street View online mapping program.

    In May, Google announced that, for more than three years — in more than 30 countries — it had been “mistakenly collecting” personal data from open Wi-Fi networks as its vehicles roamed the streets taking photos for its Street View mapping service. At the time, Google said that the data could include e-mail messages, passwords, or Web site visits. There was an uproar and data protection officials from numerous countries began investigating the online services giant’s actions. In June, Google told US lawmakers in a letter that it had been collecting data from residential Wi-Fi networks without the knowledge or consent of consumers while its Street View cameras took photos for the mapping service. Last month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it has closed an investigation into possible privacy breaches by Google’s Street View. The company had pledged to stop gathering consumers’ e-mail, passwords and other personal data.

    The Guardian reports:

    The information commissioner, Christopher Graham, rejected calls to inflict a financial penalty on Google, but said the company must sign an undertaking to ensure data protection breaches do not happen again or it will face further enforcement action.

    Google has also been ordered to delete the data it collected from users’ Wi-Fi networks by its Street View cars once legally cleared to do so. The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, last week announced the Metropolitan police had dropped its investigation into the breaches. […]

    He added that the technology giant would now be subject to an official audit of its data protection practices in the UK. […]

    Privacy campaigners reacted angrily to the ICO’s decision not to impose a financial penalty on Google, warning that it could now be open-season for internet businesses to breach users’ privacy.

    Alex Deane, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, told the Guardian: “Google should have been fined at the highest possible level. The information commissioner’s failure to take action is disgraceful.

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