Google was already licking its wounds from the virulent reaction by Gmail users to the introduction of Google Buzz – the social networking app in Gmail. The backlash from millions of angry people came from Buzz’s auto-follow feature where in Gmail account owners who activated Buzz raised privacy issues. Gmail users were initially griping that Google’s attempt of turning Gmail into a social networking platform wasn’t what they signed up for. They just wanted a free and reliable webmail service. How ironic that Google’s noble attempt to break Facebook’s almost-monopoly hold on social networking has landed in court.
The criticism got worse when Google Buzz automatically published Gmail users’ activities via Buzz auto-follow feature. Google Buzz users were furious that everybody on their email address book got automatic access to all their activities without their prior approval. Google Buzz Follow mode allows you and others to see whatever posts they make automatically. Legal ethics experts immediately informed Google about the danger of this feature but they dismissed it prior to its official launch. Google engineers only disabled this after 2 or 3 days when millions of its Gmail users bombarded them with complaints. Now Google Buzz seeks a user’s prior approval before letting other people on your contacts list Follow your social networking activities.
This belated action did not mollify angry people who felt betrayed by Google Buzz’s deceptive auto-follow feature. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that a local class action suit has been filed at San Jose federal court alleging Google Inc. violated the law when Google Buzz shared personal data without the prior consent of its Gmail users. Law firms in San Francisco, California filed the suit in behalf of Eva Hibnick, a resident of Florida who was chosen to represent the Google Gmail users who felt violated by Google Buzz. The class action suit is not only seeking unspecified monetary damage claims but is also asking the court to prohibit Google from ever engaging in similar transgressions.
The suit mentioned various violations of legal communications act, specifically those stated on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This act’s provisions seem to cover violations like “Compromising the Confidentiality of a Computer” and “Knowing Transmission and Intentional Damage.” Google has refused to comment on this turn of events. What is more ironic is that this lawsuit occurred while Google’s founder and CE0 Eric Schmidt was addressing the Mobile World Congress in Spain. He was discussing the importance of the need to “stay end-user-focused.” Well, I think they overdid it with Google Buzz. People do not like it when internet companies get too focused on their private online activities, more so if Google and others does it without a user’s explicit permission.