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11/3/2010
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Google Settles Buzz Lawsuit

The company will set aside $8.5 million to fund privacy education, but Gmail users will not be compensated.

Google began sending messages to Gmail users in the U.S. on Tuesday to provide notification that it had reached a settlement in the Buzz class action lawsuit.

The launch of Google's Buzz social networking service in February prompted a privacy outcry and subsequent lawsuits, which were aggregated into a class action.

Google made a series of changes to its service to address complaints that Buzz exposed private and potentially sensitive Gmail contacts. These included making choices about followers and following more visible, moving to an auto-suggest model rather than automatic following, and the addition of Buzz to the Google Dashboard to make it easier to see one's Buzz settings.

The settlement does not include an admission of error or any compensation for Gmail users. Rather it acknowledges the changes Google made in its service to address complaints and commits $8.5 million, less legal fees, to be directed to "organizations promoting privacy education and policy on the Web," as Google puts it in its letter.

Those seeking compensation have to opt-out of the settlement before the December 6 deadline, file a separate lawsuit, and win in court.

As a result of a separate privacy snafu -- the company's inadvertent gathering of WiFi packet data through its Street View cars -- Google last week made a significant commitment to improve its approach to privacy by adding a new director of privacy to oversee product management, implementing additional process controls and auditing, and adding further privacy education for employees.

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