Google Inc. was recently sued and settled a lawsuit concerning alleged privacy violations, according to an e-mail sent on Nov. 2 to all Gmail users in the United States.
Google’s social networking program, Google Buzz, which launched in February of this year, was at the crux of the allegations.
Google automatically registered Gmail users in Buzz, and the program released their information publicly.
This information includes users’ most frequent Gmail contacts, and was exposed without enough user consent, according to the Buzz user settlement website.
A.S. senator Melinda Hambrick said it affects students because they have CSUN Gmail accounts.
“This isn’t the first privacy breach on the internet,” said Ryan Kozonis, 23, a senior English major.
He said people will still use their credit cards to buy items online.
“No matter what you use, there’s going to be a risk and the risk is necessary,” he said. “Internet is a huge medium now. I don’t see people going on without it. I feel a little better knowing they’re (Google) dedicating resources to ensuring the privacy of users.”
Soon after the Buzz launch, Google made major improvements to the network program, including increased visibility and auto-suggestions, according to a press release from Google Buzz last month.
“We are satisfied with the agreement and are glad to move forward,” a Google spokesperson said in the press release. “We have always been committed to offering users transparency and choice in Buzz and all of our products, and will continue to work together with users to provide the best experience possible.”
Along with the changes Google has made to Buzz, the company created an $8.5 million common fund. Most of the money will go towards organizations focused on internet privacy education and policy, according to the mass Google e-mail.
The settlement is not one in which Gmail users cannot file to receive compensation.
“The fact that the shift in technology, and by that, I mean social networking and the prevalence of the internet, it is becoming a part of all aspects of life,” Hambrick said. “Honestly, I think the fact that Google set up the fund was very smart. The issue of Internet privacy is becoming more important, so I approve of the way they resolved the situation.”
Hambrick said she believes the backlash of this situation will not be known about for sometime.
“A problem that was created by Google’s action would not necessarily be recognized unless students experienced a problem,” Hambrick said. “For example, in the case of identity theft, the problem usually becomes apparent very quickly, whereas with problems associated with social networks, it may not become apparent at all.”
Yoshie Sato, 22, communications major, from Japan said she did not know about the settlement.
“Personally, I don’t care if my information is out there,” she said. “But for some people who are sensitive about their privacy, I understand. Privacy is very important to Americans.”
Sato said Google Buzz made a mistake and should have been more careful about sharing information.
“Despite the circumstances, I think there’s a positive side,” Sato said.
She added Google Buzz could make a social network exclusively for CSUN students so they can meet other students based on a group.
“This (CSUN) is such a big commuter school in the Valley,” Sato said. “I see that students are superficial in a way and this could be a good chance for students to get to know each other.”
Every Gmail user who resides in the U.S. is included in this settlement and may choose to opt out of it before Dec. 6. The court will make a final approval of the settlement on Jan. 31, 2011.