Google Settles Vanity-Searcher's Class-Action Lawsuit For $8.5 Million

Google has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it leaked the names of search users via referrer headers, according to court papers filed on Friday in San Jose, Calif.

The settlement agreement calls for Google to donate $8.5 million to schools and nonprofit organizations, including Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law's Center for Internet and Society, the MacArthur Foundation, and AARP.

Google also agreed to revise its privacy policy. The settlement agreement does not appear to require Google to change any of its practices.

If accepted by the judge, the deal will resolve allegations that Google violated its privacy policy by including search queries in "referrer headers" -- information that is automatically transmitted to sites that users click on when they leave Google. Some queries, like users' vanity searches on their own names, can provide clues to their identities -- although it's not always apparent whether users are searching their own names or the names of others.


The litigation against Google on this issue dates to 2010, when Paloma Gaos filed suit against the company. Gaos alleged that she conducted searches for her own name, as well as her family members' names, and clicked on links on the Google search results. Therefore, she argued, Google disclosed her "sensitive personal information" to third parties by transmitting her queries in the referrer headers.