Google's $8.5m class-action privacy payout goes to: Lawyers' alma maters, web giant's pals

Basically: Not you, just 'the usual suspects'


The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has narrowly approved an $8.5m Google payout for privacy violations following a lengthy argument over who should receive the money.

Despite the class-action lawsuit being brought on behalf of roughly 129 million folks in the US who Googled between 2006 and 2014, none of the money will actually go to them but will instead be split between the attorneys and organizations they have designated.

It just so happens that, as part of a settlement, three of those seven "cy pres recipients" are the alma maters of the attorneys: cash-strapped Harvard University, Stanford University and the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

The others named in the settlement are AARP Inc, Carnegie Mellon University, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Privacy Forum – all of whom are frequent recipients of Google's corporate largesse.

The proposed provision of funds has repeatedly fallen foul of the judges in charge of the case. Back in 2014, US District Judge Edward Davlia complained about the disbursement: "The elephant in the room is that many of them are law schools that you attended," he said, adding, "I'm disappointed that the usual suspects are still usual."

In case you are wondering how those organizations were chosen, you're not the only one. Davlia noted the complete lack of transparency over where the $6.5m not being awarded to the lawyers was going, and said it "raises a red flag" and "doesn't pass the smell test."

The case

The actual case and settlement is over Google violating users' privacy by revealing their search terms to third-party websites. The search terms included things like people's real names, addresses, and credit card numbers.

But when Google agreed to settle the case – handing $2.1m to the attorneys and $6.5m to the "cy pres recipients" – both sides agreed it was not possible to provide that money to actual Google users because all of them would have to "get something" for it to be a legitimate settlement. The settlement amount per user would be roughly five cents (the lawyers claim four cents) and there would likely be huge distribution and advertising costs in getting it to people.

That explanation, and the final recipients, have been repeatedly questioned, however.

Ted Frank of the Competitive Enterprise Institute attended the most recent hearing and argued that there was a clear conflict of interest in attorneys listing their alma maters as recipients. He argued that the money should be given to charities rather than extremely wealthy universities.

And by arguing that it wasn't possible to pay any money to users because it was an all-or-nothing situation where every user would have to get something, Frank argued that the case could effectively undermine every future consumer class action lawsuit and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations chosen by lawyers.

Other groups also opposed the agreement. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Consumer Watchdog complained that Google users will get nothing and the settlement money would have no impact on Google's behavior because the amount was so small compared to its revenues and profits.

The lawyers' arguments for the recipients that they and Google's lawyers had chosen were that each of them works on privacy issues and each will track how the money is spent. So a degree of transparency is included. That transparency argument was what sparked Judge Davila to note that it didn't "pass the smell test."

Next page: Stink

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Beijing reverses ban on tech companies listing offshore
    Announcement comes as Chinese ride-hailing DiDi Chuxing delists from NYSE under pressure

    The Chinese government has announced that it will again allow "platform companies" – Beijing's term for tech giants – to list on overseas stock markets, marking a loosening of restrictions on the sector.

    "Platform companies will be encouraged to list on domestic and overseas markets in accordance with laws and regulations," announced premier Li Keqiang at an executive meeting of China's State Council – a body akin to cabinet in the USA or parliamentary democracies.

    The statement comes a week after vice premier Liu He advocated technology and government cooperation and a digital economy that supports an opening to "the outside world" to around 100 members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC).

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia teases server designs for Grace-Hopper Superchips
    x86 still 'very important' we're told as lid lifted on Arm-based kit

    Computex Nvidia's Grace CPU and Hopper Superchips will make their first appearance early next year in systems that'll be based on reference servers unveiled at Computex 2022 this week.

    It's hoped these Arm-compatible HGX-series designs will be used to build computer systems that power what Nvidia believes will be a "half trillion dollar" market of machine learning, digital-twin simulation, and cloud gaming applications.

    "This transformation requires us to reimagine the datacenter at every level, from hardware to software from chips to infrastructure to systems," Paresh Kharya, senior director of product management and marketing at Nvidia, said during a press briefing.

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia brings liquid cooling to A100 PCIe GPU cards for ‘greener’ datacenters
    For those who want to give their racks an air cut

    Nvidia's GPUs are becoming increasingly more power hungry, so the US giant is hoping to make datacenters using them "greener" with liquid-cooled PCIe cards that contain its highest-performing chips.

    At this year's Computex event in Taiwan, the computer graphics goliath revealed it will sell a liquid-cooled PCIe card for its flagship server GPU, the A100, in the third quarter of this year. Then in early 2023, the company plans to release a liquid-cooled PCIe card for the A100's recently announced successor, the Hopper-powered H100.

    Nvidia's A100 has already been available for liquid-cooled servers, but to date, this has only been possible in the GPU's SXM form factor that goes into the company's HGX server board.

    Continue reading
  • Zuckerberg sued for alleged role in Cambridge Analytica data-slurp scandal
    I can prove CEO was 'personally involved in Facebook’s failure to protect privacy', DC AG insists

    Cambridge Analytica is back to haunt Mark Zuckerberg: Washington DC's Attorney General filed a lawsuit today directly accusing the Meta CEO of personal involvement in the abuses that led to the data-slurping scandal. 

    DC AG Karl Racine filed [PDF] the civil suit on Monday morning, saying his office's investigations found ample evidence Zuck could be held responsible for that 2018 cluster-fsck. For those who've put it out of mind, UK-based Cambridge Analytica harvested tens of millions of people's info via a third-party Facebook app, revealing a – at best – somewhat slipshod handling of netizens' privacy by the US tech giant.

    That year, Racine sued Facebook, claiming the social network was well aware of the analytics firm's antics yet failed to do anything meaningful until the data harvesting was covered by mainstream media. Facebook repeatedly stymied document production attempts, Racine claimed, and the paperwork it eventually handed over painted a trail he said led directly to Zuck. 

    Continue reading
  • Florida's content-moderation law kept on ice, likely unconstitutional, court says
    So cool you're into free speech because that includes taking down misinformation

    While the US Supreme Court considers an emergency petition to reinstate a preliminary injunction against Texas' social media law HB 20, the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday partially upheld a similar injunction against Florida's social media law, SB 7072.

    Both Florida and Texas last year passed laws that impose content moderation restrictions, editorial disclosure obligations, and user-data access requirements on large online social networks. The Republican governors of both states justified the laws by claiming that social media sites have been trying to censor conservative voices, an allegation that has not been supported by evidence.

    Multiple studies addressing this issue say right-wing folk aren't being censored. They have found that social media sites try to take down or block misinformation, which researchers say is more common from right-leaning sources.

    Continue reading
  • US-APAC trade deal leaves out Taiwan, military defense not ruled out
    All fun and games until the chip factories are in the crosshairs

    US President Joe Biden has heralded an Indo-Pacific trade deal signed by several nations that do not include Taiwan. At the same time, Biden warned China that America would help defend Taiwan from attack; it is home to a critical slice of the global chip industry, after all. 

    The agreement, known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), is still in its infancy, with today's announcement enabling the United States and the other 12 participating countries to begin negotiating "rules of the road that ensure [US businesses] can compete in the Indo-Pacific," the White House said. 

    Along with America, other IPEF signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Combined, the White House said, the 13 countries participating in the IPEF make up 40 percent of the global economy. 

    Continue reading
  • 381,000-plus Kubernetes API servers 'exposed to internet'
    Firewall isn't a made-up word from the Hackers movie, people

    A large number of servers running the Kubernetes API have been left exposed to the internet, which is not great: they're potentially vulnerable to abuse.

    Nonprofit security organization The Shadowserver Foundation recently scanned 454,729 systems hosting the popular open-source platform for managing and orchestrating containers, finding that more than 381,645 – or about 84 percent – are accessible via the internet to varying degrees thus providing a cracked door into a corporate network.

    "While this does not mean that these instances are fully open or vulnerable to an attack, it is likely that this level of access was not intended and these instances are an unnecessarily exposed attack surface," Shadowserver's team stressed in a write-up. "They also allow for information leakage on version and build."

    Continue reading
  • A peek into Gigabyte's GPU Arm for AI, HPC shops
    High-performance platform choices are going beyond the ubiquitous x86 standard

    Arm-based servers continue to gain momentum with Gigabyte Technology introducing a system based on Ampere's Altra processors paired with Nvidia A100 GPUs, aimed at demanding workloads such as AI training and high-performance compute (HPC) applications.

    The G492-PD0 runs either an Ampere Altra or Altra Max processor, the latter delivering 128 64-bit cores that are compatible with the Armv8.2 architecture.

    It supports 16 DDR4 DIMM slots, which would be enough space for up to 4TB of memory if all slots were filled with 256GB memory modules. The chassis also has space for no fewer than eight Nvidia A100 GPUs, which would make for a costly but very powerful system for those workloads that benefit from GPU acceleration.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022