Class Action Lawsuit Tells Google Buzz to Buzz Off

February 18, 2010

(ChattahBox)—–You recently discovered that someone or some thing broke into your house, rifled through your underwear drawer and exposed your various unmentionables, including some with holes, others a bit risque and a few pairs of embarrassing white cotton granny pants, to the entire world. What do you do? Besides becoming outraged at the invasion of privacy, you can hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. And that’s just what one Florida woman did to Google, Inc. for its new social networking tool, Buzz. Gmail users woke up one morning to find that their email accounts had been automatically linked to Buzz, which allowed other users to view contacts whom they frequently e-mailed or chatted with, as well as photos and information shared in other Google tools, such as Reader and Picasa. Google responded to the criticism, by giving users the ability to turn the feature off. But the damage has already been done with the release of private email contacts, which may have helped stalkers, compromised journalist sources and may have even broke up a few relationships by exposing affairs.

The class action complaint was filed in San Jose federal court on behalf of Eva Hibnick, by two law firms in San Francisco, California and Washington, DC.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The legal complaint accuses Google of breaking various electronic communications laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The plaintiff is seeking injunctions to prevent the company from taking similar actions in the future, and unspecified monetary relief. Hibnick is seeking to bring the complaint on behalf of all Gmail users whose accounts were automatically linked to Buzz. The filing noted there were 31.2 million Gmail users in January and that Google “added the Buzz program to most or all of these accounts.”‘

And Google’s legal nightmare doesn’t end there. The Electronic Privacy Information Center also filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that users should be given the choice to opt in into Buzz, instead of opting out.

Kimberly Nguyen, consumer privacy counsel with EPIC of Washington, D.C. pointed out that Google ripped away Gmail users’ control over their own private information. Google turned Gmail “into a social networking service and that’s not what they signed up for, Google imposed that on them without getting their consent,” said Nguyen. “The bottom line is, users should have meaningful control over their information.”

USA Today pointed out that that frequent email contacts are not necessarily friends. “This public outing of your email penpals could include your psychiatrist, your sports bookie or your secret lover. It might also reveal your prospective clients or your bill collectors.”

And making private email contacts public, also exposes “virgin accounts” to cybercriminals. Blackhat hackers have already targeted Google Buzz Web links, which can infect your computer and add it to a criminal botnet enterprise.

Beware of the Buzz. Buzz off Google and please stay out of your users’ underwear drawers.


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