SAN JOSE (CN) – Google’s latest email feature, Buzz, illegally shares users’ personal information without their consent, a class action claims in Federal Court. Gmail users say the program could reveal “the names of a doctor’s patients or a lawyer’s clients,” or the contacts of a gay person “who was struggling to come out of the closet and had contacted a gay support group.”
Lead plaintiff Eva Hibnick filed the action on behalf of more than 31 million people whose Gmail accounts were automatically linked to the feature regardless of whether they wanted it or not, according to the lawsuit.
Google’s Buzz program allows users to post updates, photos and videos for “followers” to view.
“Google created the ‘follower’ and ‘following’ lists by using an algorithm that selected those email contacts with whom a Gmail user communicated most frequently,” the suit states.
By contrast, social networking sites like Facebook only share people’s information after both agree to become “friends.”
“Google forced upon its Gmail users Google’s own definition of a proper social network, all in an effort to jump-start Google’s entry into a new consumer market,” the class claims.
The class members call the Buzz program an “indiscriminate bludgeon” that could reveal “the names of a doctor’s patients or a lawyer’s clients” or the contacts of a gay person “who was struggling to come out of the closet and had contacted a gay support group.”
“This parade of horribles was more than hypothetical,” the class claims, citing a New York Times story of a woman whose contact information was revealed to her abusive ex-boyfriend because Google Buzz automatically selected him as one of her “followers.”
Google responded with a Feb. 14 blog posting: “We’ve heard your concerns loud and clear, and we’ve already taken steps to address them.”
Despite Google’s attempt to alleviate users’ privacy concerns by allowing people to shut off the Buzz program, the class says “Google has not sufficiently altered the Buzz program to remedy the ongoing privacy violations.” Gmail users say they should have to opt in to the program, not out.
Plaintiffs demand an injunction blocking Google from operating Google Buzz without adequate privacy safeguards, plus unspecified damages for alleged violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
They are represented by William Audet in San Francisco.