Google hit with class action lawsuit over Buzz

Google apologized last week for privacy issues around its new social-networking service Buzz – and made several changes to allay user concerns.

But those actions have not helped the Search behemoth avert legal trouble over the controversial application.

Google is facing a class-action lawsuit filed in a San Jose, California federal court over Google Buzz.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle the lawsuit alleges Google Buzz violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) — a law passed in 1984 that is intended to protect individuals against companies that compromise the confidentiality of a computer.

“The plaintiff is seeking injunctions to prevent [Google] from taking similar actions in the future, and unspecified monetary relief,” according to the Chronicle.

There are 31.2 million Gmail users.

Neither Hibnick nor Google have commented on the case.

Google Buzz has faced criticism from its introduction.

Complaints first mounted over Google Buzz because activating the service within Gmail automatically identified personal e-mail addresses and contacts associated with their Gmail account which many believe was a serious violation of privacy.

Despite alterations to how the program worked and apologies from Google, many Gmail users have not stopped grousing over Buzz.

This class-action lawsuit comes right on the heels of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) privacy complaint to the FTC. EPIC thought that Buzz’s opt-out option cut into user’s personal information.

The lawsuit has been filed by William Audet of Audet & Partners LLP in San Francisco, on the behalf of Eva Hibnick of Florida.

Facebook faces the music

The legal action against Google has come on the heels of a similar class action lawsuit filed against Facebook.

The suit took issue with changes that the social networking site made to its privacy settings last November and December.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleged that the modifications have in reality reduced privacy protections for Facebook users rather than increasing it, as the company had claimed it would.

“Changes to the privacy settings that Facebook implemented and represented to increase User privacy had the outright opposite effect of resulting in the public dissemination of personal information that was originally private,” the lawsuit claimed.

Facebook’s messaging around the changes were “misleading, confusing and disingenuous,” said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages from the company.

The changes referred to in the lawsuit were made by Facebook as part of what it said was an attempt to give users greater control over their personal data.

As part of the revamp, Facebook introduced a privacy configuration wizard to allow users to set their privacy preferences. The company said the revisions would make it far simpler for users to set their privacy preferences and enable them to make more informed choices concerning the use of their personal data.

However, the lawsuit, which was filed by five Facebook users on behalf of all Facebook users, alleged that the company’s modifications have only resulted in more personal data being pushed out to the Internet while making privacy options even harder to exercise.

Prior to Facebook’s modifications last year, the only personal information that was available by default via public search was the user’s name and the networks that the user belonged to. Users had the option of deciding whether they wanted other pieces of information, such as their photos an friend listings, available publicly the lawsuit said.

However, after the revision, the information that Facebook makes publicly available by default includes user names, photos, friend’s listing, the names of any organizations and products that a user might support, as well as geographic data and other information.

In total there are at least 29 privacy settings spread out over numerous Web pages that users need to contend with, the lawsuit alleges.

“The privacy setting procedures are grossly ineffective and users are misled into allowing Facebook to having their personal information easily accessed for commercial use, exposing them to identity theft, harassment, embarrassment, intrusion and all types of cybercrime,” it says.

The revisions also caused privacy settings to default to a setting allowing more personal information than before to now be available to third-party application developers and search engines such as Google , the complaint alleged.

The one-click option that users had available previously for controlling third-party access to their personal data has been replaced by a more complicated opt-out process, and even then there is no realistic option for restricting third-party access to personal information, the suit says.

The complaints in the lawsuit echo concerns expressed by several privacy advocates immediately after Facebook announced its revamp.

In a blog post , the Electronic Frontier Foundation f warned that the ostensible privacy changes were intended to push more user data out by default rather than less.

“The Facebook privacy transition tool is clearly designed to push users to share much more of their Facebook info with everyone, a worrisome development that will likely cause a major shift in privacy level for most of Facebook’s users, whether intentionally or inadvertently,” EFF wrote.

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