Groups Press For Changes To Google Privacy Settlement

by , Oct 16, 2013, 6:21 PM
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A coalition of privacy groups are renewing their request that U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila nix a class-action settlement that would require Google to donate $8.5 million to seven nonprofits and schools.

The groups take issue with the proposed recipients of the funds -- AARP, World Privacy Forum, Carnegie-Mellon, Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Internet, Society & Policy, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Of those, only the World Privacy Forum has previously challenged Google on privacy issues, according to the settlement opponents.

“The groups proposed are not at all aligned with the interests of class members,” opponents say in a  letter to Davila sent this week. Signatories include the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Patient Privacy Rights and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Those organizations raised similar concerns at the end of August, following which Davila asked for more information about how the nonprofits were selected. A lawyer for the plaintiff said in court papers that the selection process focused on finding organizations that both sides agreed on.

But the opponents to the settlement say that this process gave Google too much influence over how the funds would be distributed. “It is entirely inappropriate that Google, the alleged wrongdoer here, be granted explicit veto power,” the critics argue.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit accusing Google of leaking users' names in referrer headers -- the information that's automatically transmitted to sites that users visit after leaving Google's search results page. Some queries, like people's vanity searches on their own names, can provide clues to their identities.

The user who sued -- Paloma 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. She said that Google disclosed her personal information to third parties by transmitting her queries in the referrer headers.

Google has since revised its policies and now encrypts search traffic for all users who click on organic results.

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