Privacy Groups Seek To Scuttle Google's $8.5 Million Class-Action Settlement

Five privacy organizations are asking a judge to scuttle Google's $8.5 million settlement of a class-action privacy lawsuit.

“The proposed settlement is bad for consumers and does nothing to change Google’s business practices,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center,  Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Patient Privacy Rights and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said today in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, Calif.

The tentative deal, which was revealed in court papers last year, stems from a lawsuit alleging that Google leaked search users' names to publishers and advertisers through referrer headers -- the information that's automatically transmitted by Google to publishers and advertisers. Some queries, like people's vanity searches on their own names, can offer clues to users' identities.

The agreement calls for Google to pay around $6 million to six nonprofits -- the World Privacy Foundation, Carnegie-Mellon University, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Harvard's Berkman Center, Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, and the AARP.

The proposed settlement also requires Google to revise its privacy policy, but allows the company to continue transmitting referrer headers. As a practical matter, Google no longer sends search queries when people click on organic links. But Google theoretically could go back to its former practice any time it wants. The company also still transmits queries to AdWords advertisers when users click on paid search ads.

The privacy groups that oppose the deal point out that it allows Google to “continue to engage in the privacy-invading practice” that sparked the lawsuit.

The organizations previously asked the Federal Trade Commission and California Attorney General to oppose the settlement. Neither has weighed in, according to court records.

But another organization, the Center for Class Action Fairness, officially filed an objection to the deal. That group -- which has also opposed other settlements -- says the $8.5 million fund should be distributed to Google's users instead of nonprofits.

Davila will hold a final hearing on the deal on Friday. So far, he hasn't indicated that he's troubled by any of the terms. On the contrary, he granted the deal preliminary approval in March. At the time, he said that “class action settlements do not need to embody the best result for preliminary approval.”



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