Privacy Groups Outline Flaws in Google Settlement
By Jeffrey Benzing | September 4, 2013 4:49 pm

Privacy advocates say organizations slated to receive a slice of an $8.5 million proposed settlement between Google Inc. and consumers upset about alleged privacy violations have mostly failed to hold the company accountable for past privacy troubles.

Because payments to individual class members would be negligible, at least according to the settling parties, the agreement instead calls for cy pres payments to organizations to promote privacy.

But privacy groups told U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila that all but one of the proposed recipients is inappropriate.

“[T]hey do not work to protect consumer privacy, they are not aligned with the interests of Class members,  and they are therefore not appropriate recipients of cy pres allocations in this matter,” an Aug. 28 letter to Davila said.

The letter is signed by leadership from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Patient Privacy Rights and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The groups argue that the settlement is flawed because it only compensates the attorneys involved in the settlement and not massive class whose privacy was allegedly violated when Google gave their search data to third parties to advertising revenue.

Google is also permitted to continue providing the data to third parties, though it must disclose its data sharing practice.

The groups said disclosure is useless.

“Such a notice simply tells users of Google Search that they have less privacy than they would have otherwise expected,” the letter said.

An early letter urged Davila to deny approval to the settlement before an Aug. 23 hearing. The groups said statements by plaintiffs counsel failed to placate their fears.

Following that hearing, plaintiffs attorney Kassra P. Nassiri called the first letter a “premature kneejerk reaction.”

Nassiri questioned whether the groups were upset because they themselves weren’t getting settlement funds.

In the Aug. 28 letter, which was posted yesterday on the court’s public docket, the groups tell Judge Davila that they have a long history of fighting for Google to respect user privacy.

The groups tell the judge that they forced Google to comply with California privacy law regarding notice of its privacy policy and were the major force behind a privacy settlement in 2011 between Google and the Federal Trade Commission.

They also opposed a revision in March 2012 of Google’s privacy policy to trim users’ ability to choose how their personal information could be used.

Only one proposed cy pres recipient — the World Privacy Forum — has sufficiently fought for privacy protection, the letter said.

Other proposed cy pres recipients include the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, the MacArthur Foundation and AARP Inc.

The letter also directs the judge to a Facebook settlement approved last week only after U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg rejected a settlement proposal that did not compensate class members upset that their likenesses were being used in “sponsored stories” on the social media website.

At the Aug. 23 hearing, Judge Davila requested further information on settlement notice and the cy pres process. A revised proposed order is due Sept. 6.

The suit is 5:10-cv-04809 in the Northern District of California.

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