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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Objection to Google’s $8.5M Privacy Deal

(CN) - A federal judge should not let Google pay $8.5 million to settle multitrillion-dollar allegations over its leak of user information, a consumer advocacy group complained.

The Center for Class Action Fairness, on behalf of objectors Melissa Holyoak and Theodore Frank, said "class members will see not one penny" of the settlement, which calls for the money to be donated to various nonprofits.

Paloma Gaos led the class action, which claims that Google violated its privacy policy by sharing search queries with third parties without the user knowing or giving permission. The queries were included in referrer headers, which identify the page containing the link the user clicked on to request the webpage. Some of the information passed on to third parties can potentially offer clues to users' identities, the lawsuit said.

The six cy pres organizations that will receive $6 million of the settlement are Carnegie Mellon University, World Privacy Forum, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Stanford Law, Harvard's Berkman Center and the AARP Foundation.

Remaining funds would cover attorneys' fees, notice and administration costs, and incentive awards for the class representative.

The settlement also pledges Google to disclose to users the way it treats queries entered into Google.com so that users can make informed choices about whether and how to use Google search.

Holyoak and Frank's objection, entered Friday, emphasizes that the complaint alleged "trillions of dollars in statutory damages on behalf of a class consisting of more than 100 million people, and then settled it for $8.5 million, of which the class members will not see one penny."

Letting class members "recover through a claims-made process and/or a sampling lottery method" remains a practicable alternative, the objection states.

The objectors also took issue with pre-existing relationships that some of the proposed cy pres recipients have with class counsel and Google.

"Class counsel are alumni of several of the cy pres recipients," resulting in "the appearance of divided loyalties of class counsel," the 31-page filing states.

Furthermore, "where the defendant is already an established donor to certain of the cy pres recipients, there is significant risk that the value of the settlement will be less beneficial to the class than it would appear," the objectors added.

Notice to the class of the settlement was inadequate as well, the objectors claimed, saying that it failed to directly notify those class members for whom Google has contact information, thus depriving them of due process.

"The settlement makes objecting or opting out of the settlement artificially and needlessly burdensome by requiring paper-mail printouts from a class of internet users," the objection states.

If the settlement is approved, the objectors said the judge should strike the unreasonable request by class counsel for $2.125 million in attorneys' fees. Because a dollar that goes to a third party is less valuable than a dollar that goes directly to a class member, class counsel should not be awarded the 9th Circuit's 25 percent benchmark approach to settlements, according to the objection.

"If this court endorses a rule that makes class counsel financially indifferent between a settlement that awards cash directly to class members and to a cy pres only settlement, the parties will always agree to the cy pres arrangement and unnamed class members will be permanently left out in the cold," the objectors said.

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