Google pays up to settle Buzz security lawsuit

Google’s agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit over claims that its Buzz social networking service violated users’ privacy, and has agreed to further simplify its privacy policy.

Google launched the service in February. But, through an auto-follow system, the default privacy setting was for users’ most popular Gmail contacts to be made public. While users did have the ability to hide this information, many complained that this option was not visible enough.

Google tweaked the site to make it clearer and also reorganized the way it handles user contacts, but the lawsuits allege it didn’t go far enough.

Under the deal, the seven plaintiffs will receive $2,500 each. The remainder will be put into a fund to pay off the lawyers, with the rest to be handed out to privacy organizations. Google’s also pledged to make greater efforts to educate users about how to maintain their privacy on the site.

The company is also simplifying – though not really altering – its privacy policy. Currently, many products and services have their own privacy policy, largely duplicating the company’s overall version. Now, many of these are to be deleted.

Google has also created a new privacy tools page, bringing everything together in one place. It also says it plans to rewrite the policy to take out much of the legal jargon and make it easier to understand.

“Our updated privacy policies still might not be your top choice for beach reading (I am, after all, still a lawyer), but hopefully you’ll find the improvements to be a step in the right direction,” says Mike Yang, Google’s associate general counsel.

The updates will go live on October 3rd.