Tuesday Google announced that federal district court Judge James Ware preliminarily approved a class action settlement related to the spotty February 20ll10 launch of its Twitter competitor, Google Buzz. The company said that the settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by Gmail users who alleged that the Google Buzz launch violated their privacy.
"We are satisfied with the agreement and are glad to move forward," said a Google spokesperson. "We have always been committed to offering users transparency and choice in Buzz and all our products, and will continue to work together with users to provide the best experience possible."
Following Google's public announcement, the search engine giant personally addressed all Google Buzz users through an email on Wednesday. "Google rarely contacts Gmail users via email, but we are making an exception," the company said. "Just to be clear, this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation. Everyone in the U.S. who uses Gmail is included in the settlement, unless you personally decide to opt out before December 6, 2010."
The class action alleges that Google compromised users' privacy by exposing their contacts without prior approval. Although not listed in the lawsuit, location tagging was also left on by default, exposing user locations automatically without prior consent. After complaints flooded the Google offices, the company stepped in and resolved the issues. However that didn't stop a group of users from filing a lawsuit.
According to Google, the settlement acknowledges its quick attempt to resolve the privacy issues. As part of the out-of-court agreement, Google has pledged to create an $8.5 million fund, the majority of which will "go to organizations focused on Internet privacy education and policy, and will make additional efforts to educate users about the privacy aspects of Buzz."
The settlement also states that no one in the class action will receive individual financial compensation save for the seven Buzz users who filed the lawsuit-- they will each receive $2,500 USD. A notice to class members (pdf) states that both sides agreed to settle the case to avoid the cost and risk of trial.
"The Settlement does not mean that any law was broken or that the Google did anything wrong," the notice states. "Google denies all legal claims in this case. The Class Representatives and their lawyers think the Settlement is in the best interest of the Class Members."
The Court will consider final approval of the proposed settlement on January 31, 2011. To read more about the Google Buzz settlement, head here.