Google’s $8.5M Privacy Deal Wins Approval

Google Inc. won a California federal judge’s final approval of an $8.5 million deal in a class action lawsuit over privacy issues, despite earlier objections to some class fund payment recipients as being the “usual suspects.” The tech giant was accused of disclosing users’ search terms, overcoming the court’s earlier objections.

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila signed off on the settlement, approving $2.1 million in attorneys’ fees and $6.5 million that will go to AARP Inc., Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Stanford University, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Privacy Forum.

In the meantime, the California federal judge expressed his chagrin that “some of the proposed cy pres recipients are ‘usual suspects,’ or organizations that regularly get distributions from class action settlements.”

Judge Davila explains that “at the two approval hearing held in this case, the court expressed a concern with using the same list of cy pres recipients in every internet privacy class action and observed that this practice discourages the development of other worthy organizations.”

In addition, he says that “this practice raises questions about the effectiveness of those organizations that have received prior distributions.” For this reason Judge Davila says that “the court was somewhat surprised at the final list of distributees, since Plaintiffs’ counsel suggested the selection process would potentially cast a wider net.”

Despite this concern, this Google deal was granted a final approval as the court recognizes that failure to modify the list of distributees cannot serve as a basis to turn down the settlement, in particular when the recipients qualify under the applicable standard, according to the California federal judge.

The Google privacy class action accused the Internet giant of violating the Stored Communications Act by divulging search terms, which can include personal information (names, phone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, etc.). This can increase the risk of identity theft, the plaintiffs stated.

Google faced two privacy class action lawsuits – one was filed in 2010 and another in 2012.

According to the agreement, “instead, Google will be obligated to make certain ‘agreed-upon disclosures,’ or changes to certain portions of its website, the purpose of which is to better inform users how their search terms could be disclosed to third parties through a referrer header.”

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