back to article Supreme Court to dig into Google's very cosy $8.5m deal with lawyers over web search leak

A dodgy deal cooked up between Google and the lawyers that successfully sued it for violating user privacy is heading to the US Supreme Court. On Monday, America's top court agreed [PDF] to hear just three cases out of more than 100 applications – and one of them covers a $8.5m payout from Google for revealing users' search …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Classic that they missed the most honest solution..

    Google and the opposing lawyers argue that due to the huge number of class action members – 129 million Google users between 2006 and 2014 – the settlement would only result in a payout of four cents per person.

    To me, that clearly indicates another issue: the settlement was far too low. Why should Google, Equifax and other mass violators get a volume discount on their fines? If they faced properly paying for their violations instead of looking at a rounding error on their P&L they could feel inspired to actually pay attention to the law.

    If that puts them out of business they may at least serve as an object lesson to others. It's not like it's an infrequent problem..

    1. ratfox Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Classic that they missed the most honest solution..

      The reason the payment was so low is that the data "leak" was rather trivial.

      It used to be that when you clicked on a Google result, the target website would automatically receive as referer link the URL of the Google results page. Now this is pretty much exactly what the referer link was defined for. The problem is that the URL of the results page contains your search query, and so the target website would learn the search query that had returned their website.

      For instance, if you searched for "nytimes" and clicked on the New York Times website, the New York Times would know you had just searched for "nytimes". And the porn site would know the exact fetish which had brought you to them.

      I guess people didn't thought about privacy when they defined the referer link in HTTP, but now it would be a non-starter. In any case, that's why Google ended up having to pay so little.

    2. Vincent Ballard

      Re: Classic that they missed the most honest solution..

      I quite agree, but I would add that if the lawyers think that the settlement they negotiated doesn't adequately compensate the victims, maybe they should reduce their fees and thus increase the amount going to the victims.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Classic that they missed the most honest solution..

        maybe they should reduce their fees

        Thanks, I needed that laugh.

  2. cyberdemon
    Paris Hilton

    What's wrong with this?

    Shurely the residents of Cyprus could do with the money?

    Now where did I put my glassses

  3. Daggerchild Silver badge

    US lawyers are taking everyone's money?

    Is this the Class action to do with Google leaving the search terms in the Referer: header?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: US lawyers are taking everyone's money?

      Yeah, it was in the referrer header in violation of Google's own privacy policy.

      C.

      1. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: US lawyers are taking everyone's money?

        So in the UK, what is all the extra shit you get tagged onto a Google search in Chrome?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: US lawyers are taking everyone's money?

          The same shit, just not so bleeding obvious.

          Just use StartPage instead.

  4. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    So class action suits - do they frequently (or even occasionally) get used in any way other than to enrich the legal parasites who run them?

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      I've received several class-action payouts over the years, none for as much as $10, and one, as I recall it, was for coupons for a discount on a product I no longer wanted to buy.

      I'm still waiting in the PS3 OtherOS suit, for which I have submitted all the paperwork, including screen shots of the PS3 running Yellow Dog Linux. The final hearing is on May 29, so there may be hope; but payouts that large seem to be distant outliers in consumer class action suits.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ah yes, the reason I no longer touch anything made by Sony (never got hit by their stealthware, otherwise it could have happened earlier).

        To me, that's the equivalent of buying a car with alloy wheels and getting it back with steel rims after a service.

  5. sjsmoto

    I don't care if the payout is only four cents per person - I want mine! I would rather get pennies than see schools crank out even more lawyers.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "You never pay every class member. On small dollar settlements there is 0.25 per cent claim rate, so even if you quadruple that rate, you can still pay people $5 or so."

    Simple solution. Make the damages per claimant realistic and publicise them.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    Personally, I think I'd be happiest if the court insisted that Google, in fact, needed to print out and mail 129 million four-cent checks and eat the expenses of doing so. It would probably STILL end up only costing the equivalent of a rounding error on their balance sheets, but the sheer annoyance to them -- and the lawyers who thought they had a sweetheart deal lined up -- would be worth it!

  9. peter_dtm

    Since when did the cost of disbursement ever worry a lawyer

    The court shouldn’t care less how much it costs the loser to pay out the damages (note to USA-ians it is could not care less not your totally wrong headed could care less...).

    In fact wouldn’t that be part of their punishment part of the findings.

    I have NEVER found any legal person who wouldn’t chase 4c that was owed to them; even if it cost the debtor a million bucks to pay; they ALWAYS get their pound of flesh; and then some.

    Sounds like all the class action ‘winners’ should take a class action against the courts and this corrupt practice

  10. DougS Silver badge

    Lottery

    In cases where the payout per person is too small, maybe it should be treated as a lottery. Members of the class who signed up would be eligible for a drawing that pays some larger amount, like $1000. That would encourage signups, and avoid having most of the settlement go towards wasted costs like postage (how much would it cost to print/send a 4 cent check in the mail, or even a $1 check?)

    Though I find it ridiculous that something that affected 129 million people is only worth 4 cents per person. How do you determine that the average person suffered only 4 cents worth of harm? They believe there's harm, but the harm is literally so small that it is less than buying the cheapest thing you can find and losing it?

    1. Vector

      Re: Lottery

      Not that I know precisely what it would be in this case, but it seems to me, when the settlement is too small for the class members, perhaps the money should be used in some effort to address the underlying problems which merited the suit in the first place.

      ...and, no!, I don't mean make more lawyers!!!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    America Fuck Yeah

    The fact that 'Class Action Fairness' had to be set up, shows cracks in a process that was supposed to protect the 'little guy' vs the Goliaths. This is yet another Fall-of-Rome moment for the US. It shows how things are carved up for 1%'ers at the expense of everyone else! America is toast!

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: America Fuck Yeah

      America was never about the little guys. If you weren't in with the big guys you were prey.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: America Fuck Yeah

      Class action was sold as being for the little guys, by plaintiff attorneys who knew that 30% of the product of a small amount and a large number of "victims" could make them quite well off.

  12. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    FAIL

    129 million?

    I can't believe that all those people signed up to the class action; that is, positively confirmed that the felt that they had been wronged and wished to instruct lawyers to sue.

    So the "on behalf of" numbers are a con to try and bump up the severity of the case and the fees. If the CA required agrieved users to sign up then you would see a much smaller settlement. Even if 100,000 users signed up and their loss was calculated at $10 each then that would only be a million dollars.

    The courts obviously know the numbers are false which is why the damages are trivival per capita.

    As I understand it class action suits are there to allow a number of people with a common grievance to combine resources and risk so they can afford to sue a very rich opponent. This doesn't seem to be what is happening. Instead law firms seem to be picking up likely looking cases "pro bono" with the assumption that they will win enough over time to cover any losses. Noting that "pro bono" is a shortened version of "pro bono publico" and there is no obvious benefit to the public. Could be "no win no fee" of course.

    Why not have a crowd funding model where everyone has to sign up and put some money in? Assume that you pledge $100 which you get back plus damages if you win. This would produce a list of complainants with skin in the game and a clear target for the award of costs and damages. I presume the class action is for the benefit of the defendant who can cut a deal and also be immune to further law suits from other agrieved parties. However if the crowd fund scheme is advertised enough then it might be assumed that other interested parties have declined to act. $100 might exclude some from participation; with enough take up the subscription could be lowered after the first 10,000 with original subscribers having the option of some money back or a larger share of the pot.

    Whatever, the current system just seems to be a cosy way for lawyers to keep themselves productive for the benefit of their mates and the public get nothing. Typical bloody lawyers.

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    $8.5 million and lawyers are getting 25% of that ?

    Why is it that lawyers who are not plaintifs get a full quarter of the total damages ? In what world is that normal ? Did they actually work for $2 million worth ?

    No, they did not. They're just carving the beast for the lion's share before letting the rabble dine on scraps.

    There should be a change of rule : lawyers get costs + 10% deducted from the total. With an audit of costs if necessary. That should be largely enough.

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