Google Buzz Draws Class-Action Suit From Harvard Student

Although Google has apologized for Buzz's flaws and has addressed some of the issues (for example, they abandoned the auto-follow model and now recommend people to follow), Mason contends the company's changes are insufficient.

The program remains an opt-out program, which, he said, he thinks is "an unfair and generally deceptive practice." He also said that the company can't un-do their initial failings.

"We take issue with the way it was launched," he said. "It was a violation originally. … This is not the kind of behavior that people expect from electronic media and that's why these laws are in place."

Google: No Comment on Suit

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, "We haven't yet been served, so we can't comment on the suit until we've had a chance to review it."

After the initial storm of gripes from Gmail users, Gmail and Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson took to the official Gmail blog Saturday to apologize for the new service's flaws and announced a series of changes.

"We quickly realized that we didn't get everything quite right," he wrote. "We're very sorry for the concern we've caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We'll continue to do so."

In addition to eliminating the auto-follow model, Jackson said, Google Buzz no longer auto-connected other Google applications to the social network and could be disabled by accessing Gmail settings.

But the apology and changes didn't prevent privacy watchdog Electronic Privacy Information Center from filing a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Privacy Watchdog Files FTC Complaint

In the complaint filed Tuesday, the center alleged that Google is "engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices" that violated user privacy expectations, contradicted Google's own privacy policy and may have violated federal wiretap laws.

Kimberly Nguyen, consumer privacy counsel for the center, said, "Our main concern is that Google should allow users to have meaningful control over their personal information and Google Buzz doesn't allow for that."

Gmail users expected an e-mail service from Google, she said, but when the company rolled out Google Buzz, users were involuntarily pulled into a social networking service for which they didn't sign up.

Although the company has changed several Google Buzz features, she said, it has not made one key change: Instead of offering Google Buzz to Gmail users and letting them choose to opt-in, Google automatically registered Gmail users with the service, only giving them the choice to opt-out.

"To make this opt-in versus opt-out is very important," she said. "The bottom line is users should have control over their information.

Although she hadn't read Hibnick's complaint, she said there could be some "real merit" to it.

"A lot of people were outraged when they first saw that their private e-mail contacts were being publicized to the world," she said.

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