Google Settlement “Doesn’t Pass The Smell Test”

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An $8.5 million settlement  in a class action privacy lawsuit against Google “doesn’t pass the smell test” a federal judge said at a fairness hearing on the proposed deal Friday in San Jose, CA, indicating he will likely reject it.

Five consumer privacy groups — Consumer Watchdog, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, The Center for Digital Democracy, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Patient Privacy Rights — have opposed the settlement since it was announced a year ago.

Earlier this week the groups sent a third letter to U.S. District Judge Edward Davila urging him to reject the settlement because of its “obvious deficiencies.”

The settlement does not provide any payment to the members of the class.  Rather, it makes donations to academic institutions that were attended by the lawyers who brought the suit, including Harvard, Stanford University and Chicago-Kent College of Law.

“The elephant in the room is that many of them are law schools that you attended,” Davila said, according to Bloomberg News.  The news service said that  judge indicated he had expected a wider net to be cast, but that it was exactly the same list of recipients as the lawyers presented to him a year ago.
“I’m disappointed that the usual suspects are still usual,” Davila said, according to Bloomberg.  The lack of transparency in the selection process “raises a red flag” and “doesn’t pass the smell test,” Bloomberg quoted Davila as saying.
The consumer privacy groups on Wednesday wrote the judge opposing the settlement:

“First, the proposed settlement fails to require Google to make any substantive changes to its business practices; second, it provides no monetary relief to the class; and third, the proposed cy pres allocations do not meet the Ninth Circuit’s requirements for alignment with the interests of class members.”
Read the groups’ recent letter here:

In a letter to Judge Davila last year the five consumer privacy groups  expressed concerns about the ties the various lawyers have to the institutions receiving the money:

“It may be significant that several of the proposed recipients of cy pres funds are favored charities of defendant Google, which routinely provides funding to these organizations for the benefit of Google. As the Ninth Circuit has stated, ‘it seems somewhat distasteful to allow a corporation to fulfill its legal and equitable obligations through tax-deductible donations to third parties.’ Furthermore, in terms of deterrence, the Ninth Circuit considers such schemes a ‘paper tiger.’   We also note a disturbing amount of overlap between the proposed cy pres recipients and the alma maters of the counsel in this matter: proposed class counsel Michael J. Aschenbrener (J.D., Chicago-Kent College of Law) and Kassra P. Nassiri (M.A., Stanford; J.D., Harvard); and defense counsel Eric Butler Evans (A.B., A.M., Harvard University). That such ties exist does not preclude the award of cy pres funds to these institutions, but they clearly cannot properly provide the basis.”

Read last year’s letter here:

The suit was filed because of the way Google passed users search queries on to third parties, violating the users’ privacy.

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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