The Hibnick v. Google lawsuit proved that it’s possible to hold the Big Tech giant accountable for the online privacy violations and led to the demise of Google’s unsuccessful social media network Buzz. Let’s get right into it.

What happened

Google Buzz was bad. “Late, Boring, And Lame”, these were the adjectives Business Insider used when describing Google’s social networking platform that only lasted 1 year (from 2010 to 2011). With so many failed attempts at creating a Facebook rival over the years, it’s really interesting why Google has never been successful in this with all the money and talent.

With Buzz, privacy played a huge part in its demise. And horrible interface too, although the violation of personal data was more serious.

The main problem with Buzz was its Gmail integration. Google wanted to do the trick here to obtain the user base easily. So upon launching Buzz they simply made it a tie-in feature of their mailing client.

That led to a privacy catastrophe when the list of the names and contacts Gmail user interacted with the most was publicly displayed on his Google Profile as a part of Buzz antics. Security and privacy-wise it was wrong on many levels.

Not surprisingly, many were dissatisfied with the new social media network and the ways it operated. Among them was Eva Hibnick, a Harvard Law student. She headed the class-action law suit against Google alleging that the company violated privacy laws with a launch of Buzz.

“I feel really deeply about this issue and that’s why I decided to step forward,” Hibnick said in an interview to ABC News. If only all the users whose privacy was violated by the Big Tech were equally law-savvy and sued.

On the other front, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Google Buzz “violated user expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google’s privacy policy, and may have violated federal wiretap laws”.

And the justice prevailed. Google has lost the case and had to settle the lawsuit.

Outcome of the case

The lawsuit settled for $8.5 million, 30% of which went to the attorneys.

$8.5 million wasn’t given to the affected Gmail users but was used to support a fund for “organisations working on privacy education and policy on the web”. The similar outcome we’ve seen in Lane v. Facebook lawsuit.

Decided: October 7, 2010

Why it mattered

This privacy litigation case brought light to the sneaky opt-in practices of Google that disregard user privacy. It also initiated an active privacy discussion in media and draw attention to ways companies use their market power to feed users with experimental half-baked projects without the user consent.

Also, it put an end to a horrible Buzz and paved way for another big social media flop Google Plus.

The real question here: will Google ever be good at creating a social media network?

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