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New Social Networking Tool Under Fire

Operators of the new social networking site, Google Buzz, are being accused of violating privacy rights. Buzz has been the talk of the tech world recently, but a class-action lawsuit raises questions about Google’s use of personal information. The lawsuit, filed in San Jose, CA federal court by law firms from San Francisco and Washington, D.C., claims that by opting all Gmail users into its Buzz launch, Google has unlawfully distributed personal data without users’ consent.

The litigation, filed by Sarasota, FL resident Eva Hibnick against the Mountain View, CA technology company, claims to be on behalf of all 31 million U.S. users of Gmail, Google’s email service. The document cites a variety of consumer privacy and protection acts in building the case against Google. Hibnick said in an eBrandz article that when she checked her Gmail account Feb. 9 she discovered that she had been automatically signed up for Buzz without her consent. The amount of damages Hibnick is seeking is not disclosed in the lawsuit. She also demands the company cease its practice of distributing personal data. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Buzz is a new social networking tool similar to Facebook or Twitter, allowing users to connect with their friends and colleagues by posting updates and photos. However, users create their own bank of contacts on these competing sites rather than transferring them from another service, as Buzz does with Gmail. Watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center has also filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Google to prevent the company from using users’ Gmail contacts to create lists for Buzz, claiming that the company breached laws protecting consumers. Google responded by saying that it has already installed changes to Buzz to address those concerns and has plans for more improvements. However, the litigation states that Google has not gone far enough in its modifications.

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