Google Buzz Draws Class-Action Suit From Harvard Student

Love it or loathe it, Google Buzz has dominated tech headlines since its launch last week.

The latest product unveiled by the Mountain View tech giant, Google Buzz, is a social networking service that plugs right into a Gmail user's e-mail account.

Like Facebook or Twitter, the new tool lets users post status updates, YouTube videos and photos, connecting users in an ongoing online conversation.

While some people have hailed Google Buzz as a potential "Facebook killer," others have lambasted the service for publicizing users' private information.

One law school student decided this week to take the Google Buzz backlash to a whole new level.

Complaint Cites Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Law firms in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Wednesday filed a class-action complaint in San Jose, Calif., federal court against Google Buzz on behalf of Eva Hibnick, a 24-year-old Harvard Law School student.

The complaint alleges that Google Buzz, which automatically opted-in all Gmail users upon its launch, unlawfully shared personal data without users' permission. The document cites the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Federal Stored Communications Act and California common and statutory law.

"I feel like they did something wrong," said Hibnick, an active Gmail user and second-year law student. "They opted me into this social network and I didn't want it."

Hibnick said she typically uses Gmail about two to three times a day, and when she signed in to the service Feb. 9 (the day of Google Buzz's launch), she didn't realize at first that she had been automatically signed up for the new social network.

When she realized later, she said she was concerned that Google Buzz had publicly disclosed her personal relationships.

Student: Google Buzz Revealed Personal Contacts

When the service first launched, it set users up to automatically "follow" (or receive status updates from) the people they most e-mailed or chatted with, leading many users to worry that their contacts were public to anyone on the Web.

Hibnick said that some of the people Google had selected to follow her were people she hadn't spoken to in months.

Hibnick said she mentioned her frustrations to a classmate, who happened to be a research assistant for a Harvard professor who specializes in civil procedure and class-action law.

When he agreed that Google Buzz could indeed constitute a privacy breach, he put them in touch with one of the attorneys now representing Hibnick.

"I feel really deeply about this issue and that's why I decided to step forward," Hibnick said.

Attorney: Google Buzz Not What People Expect From Electronic Media

Hibnick is bringing the complaint on behalf of all Gmail users whose accounts were linked to Google Buzz (there were 31.2 million users as of January, according to the filing) and is seeking injunctions to prevent the company from acting similarly in the future, as well as monetary relief.

One of her attorneys, Gary E. Mason of Washington, D.C.-based Mason Law Firm LLP, said, "It's not so much that we're expecting to get millions of people hundreds of dollars. What we'd like to see as result is a commitment from Google that they're not going to do this again the next time they launch a product."

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