Harvard Law student brings class action lawsuit over Google Buzz


When Google unveiled its new Buzz social network for GMail users last week, many were perturbed by the fact that the service automatically created networks out of their email contacts. In many cases, these ad hoc networks exposed correspondence that users would have rather kept private. Now, a Harvard Law School student is bringing a massive class action lawsuit against the internet company, claiming that it severely compromised her and others’ privacy.

On February 9th, the day Google rolled out Buzz, 2L Eva Hibnick, 24, said she signed into GMail without realizing that, by doing so, she had unwittingly also signed up to be part of the new network. After realizing some of the people that were now part of her network were people she hadn’t spoken to in months, Hibnick expressed her frustration to classmate Benjamin Osborn ’10, who happened to be a research assistant to Professor William Rubenstein ’86. Osborn and Rubenstein discussed the idea of a lawsuit, the Harvard Crimson later reported, and Rubenstein eventually contacted attorney Gary E. Mason.

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Hibnick was bringing a class action lawsuit against the internet giant, alleging breaches of several federal laws, including the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Federal Stored Communications Act, as well as California common and statutory law. The complaint was filed by both California and Washington, DC law firms in California’s San Jose federal court, and notes that the implementation of Buzz potentially affected the over 30 million users with Google accounts.

Lead attorney Gary E. Mason told ABC News that the goal of the suit was “a commitment from Google that they’re not going to do this again the next time they launch a product.” He said that Google’s most recent changes to the program, meant to address privacy concerns by ending its “auto-follow” feature, still leave the program as a whole opt-out.

News of the lawsuit comes two days after the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint about Google Buzz with the Federal Trade Commission.

Stay with the Harvard Law Record for exclusive new information on this story as it breaks.

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