Google To Pay $8.5 Million To Settle Referrer Suit

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Google is paying $8.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that the company was sharing search queries with third parties without the searchers knowing about it or giving them permission to do so.

The case stems from a suit filed by Paloma Gaos all the way back in 2010, who according to Search Engine Land, sued the company after doing vanity searches for her name and family members, claiming Google violated federal and California laws by passing these to sites she clicked on. In February of last year, Gabriel Priyev reportedly filed similar suit before agreeing to add it to a combined suit with Gaos.

MediaPost appears to be the first to have broken the settlement news, reporting on court papers filed on Friday in San Jose:

Google also agreed to revise its privacy policy. The settlement agreement does not appear to require Google to change any of its practices.

If accepted by the judge, the deal will resolve allegations that Google violated its privacy policy by including search queries in "referrer headers" -- information that is automatically transmitted to sites that users click on when they leave Google. Some queries, like users' vanity searches on their own names, can provide clues to their identities -- although it's not always apparent whether users are searching their own names or the names of others.

That Google agreed to revise its privacy policy is somewhat surprising, given that the company hasn't seemed much interesting in budging on it when it comes to concerns expressed in France and other countries.

Matt McGee at Search Engine Land shares a statement from the company:

Referrers have long been an important part of the web, helping website owners understand how a visitor found their site. We’re pleased to have reached a settlement, avoiding the burden of further litigation and bringing users clarity around how referrers work.

While the suit was started by a pair of Google users, the money will not be going to them, but to various schools and nonprofit organizations, including Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law's Center for Internet and Society, the MacArthur Foundation, and AARP.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.