back to article Let's be Frank: Bloke drags Google to the US Supreme Court over $8.5m privacy payout

Ted Frank has hit the equivalent of a legal jackpot: a hearing in front of the US Supreme Court. "Certiorari granted: 17-961 Frank, Theodore H., et al. V. Gaos, Paloma, et al," reads the order list [PDF] for April 30, 2018 – one of only three cases whose petitions were granted; 138 others were denied. The chance to argue a …

  1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Wow

    Well, knock me down with a fether a Lawyer with some morals.

    Someone get this near-mythical beast some protection before he gets shot and his head mounted on somebody's wall.

    More seriously though all power to anyone who steps up to try to halt this kind of abuse of the system.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      Yep, all those lawyers who work for the homeless or for absued children, or who help you make sure your scumbag neighbour isn't tossing dog doo into your garden -- all villains. Or are lawyers not unlike 99.99% of IT people who are always skiving and taking bungs? Or so popular belief holds?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Wow

        Uh...No.

        "Yep, all those lawyers who work for the homeless or for absued children, or who help you make sure your scumbag neighbour isn't tossing dog doo into your garden -- all villains."

        That's why we don't say "all". All stereotypes that claim to speak for all people are bad. But that doesn't change the point that it seems a bit bad that a settlement against google for messing up privacy for users results in $0 to users, a lot to lawyers, a lot to law schools that the users have little to do with, and a lot to things google was going to pay anyway. We might reasonably blame the lawyers for this.

        "Or are lawyers not unlike 99.99% of IT people who are always skiving and taking bungs? Or so popular belief holds?"

        Then popular belief is wrong. You'll see a lot of yelling about IT from everywhere, and a lot of it is true, but usually the administrator earns a lot less than the lawyer and doesn't break things because they hate the users. There are many jobs where things break and IT is blamed, but not all of those are because IT broke it. Also, it has almost nothing to do with the point being made, that one group of lawyers in this situation and perhaps too many lawyers in other positions are not serving the clients they claim to represent in favor of self-serving and adversary-serving decisions.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    To be Frank

    Frank should get a pat on the back.

    I wonder how many lawyers are cursing him.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: To be Frank

      All of the ones driving expensive cars.

  3. Mr Youmustbe Fuckingjoking

    Simple to compensate the vast majority of victims

    Just make Google credit $1 to every Google Play account.

    1. LDS Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Simple to compensate the vast majority of victims

      Or just establish how much each single user must be compensated for the damage. Then multiply it for the number of damaged users, not vice versa....

      1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: Simple to compensate the vast majority of victims

        ...and make the judgement "$Penalty plus administration costs".

        1. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: Simple to compensate the vast majority of victims

          > ...and make the judgement "$Penalty plus administration costs".

          You mean:

          $google_total_payout = $penalty + $administration_cost

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Simple to compensate the vast majority of victims

        Or just establish how much each single user must be compensated for the damage. Then multiply it for the number of damaged users

        In which case Google or whoever would actually fight the case, rather than just hand over an insignificant (to them) amount of money to make it go away.

        This kind of class action lawsuit is really just a form of legalised extortion, with the amount claimed calculated not on the basis of the damage suffered but on that old principle of effective taxation: plucking the maximum number of feathers with the minimum amount of hissing.

        1. YetAnotherLocksmith Bronze badge

          Re: Simple to compensate the vast majority of victims

          Well, to be honest, why do we care if the entity that's broken the law in a massive & sustainably profitable way hisses?

          If you can "just do it & pay off the fines" then how is it a deterrent? That's how you end up with $billion+ companies, like Uber, who have zero scruples and no actual business plan beyond exploit the workers until they can be replaced by robots.

          They should be plucked.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been in a few class actions without knowing it...

    .... a few years back I received a letter from American airlines saying my payout was 56 cents as a result of the class action lawsuit because I had bought a ticket at a certain time and everyone was being compensated for such and such price fixing scandal. It then mentioned the cost of processing a cheque and posting it was beyond this cost so the money went into a 'Cy Pres'... all of this is pointless since:

    1) I didn't even know I was in a class action lawsuit

    2) The result was meaningless anyway

    Ok maybe the company was punished?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Been in a few class actions without knowing it...

      "Ok maybe the company was punished?"

      It's the criminal law's job to see a company is punished if they have broken the law. It's civil law's job to see the victims are compensated. In any given situation one or both might apply. But if there is compensation the calculated amount should go to the victims. The cost of administering the payment should be paid by the perpetrator. If that came to more than 56 cents it shouldn't be anybody's problem but the airline's.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    ""experience as a trial judge taught me to be skeptical of unsworn statements from lawyers,

    especially when it comes to conflict of interest issues.""

    Hell yes.

    This is basically "No Your Honor I will gain no direct or indirect benefit (from bunging my old law school several $m). "

    Basically you're relying on the lawyers honor that they make this statement.

    And as we all know most lawyers don't have such a thing to begin with.

    And let's be real. The Google case is not just a conflict of interest it's a blatant stitch up.

  6. User McUser
    FAIL

    Economically Feasible?

    Why does the court (any court) care to make things easier or cheaper for the giant corporation with many billions of dollars?

    Personally, I would consider the amount paid to track down addresses for the class members and then print and mail all the checks as part of the punishment.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Economically Feasible?

      "Personally, I would consider the amount paid to track down addresses for the class members and then print and mail all the checks as part of the punishment."

      The problem here is seeing this as punishment. If there is punishment it should come from criminal action. This is supposedly compensation and the cost of processing that should be part of the costs paid by Google. If someone has suffered $x damages then $x should be what they're entitled to receive, not $x minus some administration fee.

      1. User McUser

        Re: Economically Feasible?

        This is supposedly compensation and the cost of processing that should be part of the costs paid by Google. If someone has suffered $x damages then $x should be what they're entitled to receive, not $x minus some administration fee.

        That is exactly my point - if Google has agreed to pay an amount that breaks down to 4¢ per class member then those individuals in the class are entitled to the entire 4¢ and not 4¢ "minus some administration fee." Ergo, Google has to pay whatever direct and indirect fees or costs incurred while processing those 129 million 4¢ payments.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Economically Feasible?

          Should they also make Page & Brin write the 4 cent checks by hand like Steve Martin did in The Jerk? I'll bet Google would never run afoul of any regulations ever again if they did!

          1. GIRZiM

            Re: Should they also make Page & Brin write the 4 cent checks by hand

            Page & Brin should be the precedent setting case of those taking the lion's share of the good also taking its equivalent in bad and pay it out of their own pockets - admin costs of tracking everyone down and all.

            Maybe then we'd see fewer sharks in business for the bonus they get for fucking up the business (the so called 'golden handshake') and more in business with the intent that things should go well and quality products and services offered for a fair price by employees making a decent living ethically.

            They should also be publicly humiliated: they could spend some time in the stocks in Time Square and be televised nationwide and livestreamed on Youtube as teens throw tins of tomatoes at them and hold pissing competitions against their faces - for which privilege they would also be billed.

  7. Herby

    Stating the obvious...

    The only people who actually make out in a class action lawsuit are THE LAWYERS. Perhaps something should be done about this. Maybe the lawyer's fee out a single class participant. So, they get 33% of the $1.00 settlement. That would work for me!

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

      Re: Stating the obvious...

      Even if *each* lawyer was paid as 25%-33% of a class member -- or even 100% -- fine.

      But currently there are situations such as:

      (This is for order of magnitude only, not representative of any case.)

      100k class members splitting a $1M settlement

      Gross payout/member = $10

      If lawyers' cut is 33%, then net payout/member = $6.66

      Lawyers' payout = $333k / number of lawyers

      If there are any less than 50k (!) lawyers involved, each "earns" more than a class member. Because math.

    2. RRJ

      Re: Stating the obvious...

      Would it not be better to cancel all class action lawsuit's.. as seems this does not work for the user.. so why do it.. just a wast of time..

  8. handleoclast

    Simple solution

    Give the money to one or more of Google's competitors that protect privacy.

    I bet most of the claimants would be happy with that. Many would be overjoyed. Given the choice of getting 4 cents (except they wouldn't) or giving Google a kick in the teeth, which would they go for?

  9. wsm

    Lawyers deciding what lawyers will do

    All of this has nothing to do with the law or justice. It has everything to do with money, cash, dole or any other term you can use to describe a payout to everyone involved but the victim.

    The class action reform which is long overdue would address the victim as the principal recipient of any redress. But anything that doesn't benefit the lawyers first is not going to happen. Even if the victim is put first, there won't be any cases undertaken which don't add up to more money for the law firms and their system of routing all payments to their partners, whether they are their multiple affiliates in the legal community or their alma maters.

    The poor victim is too poor to matter.

    So, who is going to benefit from any finding by the Supremes? Only more lawyers.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Democracy Under Threat?

    It's interesting to compare the way things works in the USA with, say, the UK.

    In the UK you have a government much more prepared to preempt and intervene, resulting in laws like the Data Protection Act, which has its origin back in 1984, long before the Web was even invented. It's far from perfect, but at least there's a robust legal background that brings the threats of eye watering fines. For instance a data leak might result in a £5000 fine per user, and that's separate to any civil settlement that a court might order. Makes a $0.56 settlement look pointless.

    Whereas in the USA the default answer seems to be "well, you can sue them". That's actually fine so long as relief can be obtained, but as this chap Frank has been pointing out there is no meaningful relief. And so there is no meaningful deterrent either.

    This is actually pretty bad for democracy in general. The political system in the USA seems to have effectively washed its hands clean of any responsibility for setting the rules in almost all fields of life these days. That must surely make the electorate wonder exactly what their political system is for, and so they start treating it like a popularity contest rather than something deadly serious (QED: 2016 presidential election). I'm not suggesting that the political system in the UK is in better health - it might be, but only marginally - but there's not been a UK government of any flavour that has refused to do anything at all. Generally speaking if something must be done, something gets done (it might not be to everyone's taste, but something is usually better than nothing).

    If the supreme court fails to take the opportunity to fix the class action system, fails to stop them being nothing more than an elaborate way for big companies and lawyers to buy each other drinks, then the USA is seemingly left without a system of any sort. They'd have a political system that does nothing. They'd have a judicial system that does nothing. In some respects that resembles anarchy, with a dose of corporate dictatorship thrown in for good measure. Doesn't sound very conducive to business and happy living.

    1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Democracy Under Threat?

      Well, AC, that's about the most succinct summary of the mess we are in I've seen. Please don't forget to include the privatized police state while you are at it. Miniluv is thriving... Let's break out the Victory gin and drink immediately. Wait... Why's my gin *brown*?

  11. Oengus Silver badge

    Proportionate

    Shouldn't the fine be proportionate to the number of people impacted. In this case $8.5m seems ridiculously low compared to the number of people "identified" (126m).

    The courts have got to stop handing out settlements that the likes of Google can treat as "the cost of doing business".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Proportionate

      It was proportionate. The reason the amount was so small is that the leak was so insignificant.

      What Google got sued over was that they didn't clean the referer link when sending people to websites from their search results. So the websites would be able to know the search query which had returned their own website. For instance, stack overflow would know you were coming to that question about C++ templates after searching for "C++ templates definition in headers".

      That's relatively unimportant, but Google does have in their T&Cs that they don't tell anybody about your search queries, therefore the lawsuit.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    $8.5m privacy payout

    '$8.5m privacy payout' - 8.5 millidollars? That's 0.85 cents! Surely the international standard symbol for millions is capital M.

  13. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    A partisan issue?

    ..."This is not a partisan issue," he notes. "It's not conservative, it's not liberal: it's a legal problem that needs tight rules. I want to win 9-0." ®...

    it IS a partisan issue. It's the Establishment vs the Little People....

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Distribution

    Let the claimants determine the distribution of cy pres payments. The beneficiaries can be determined by crowd-sourcing amongst all claimants that choose to exercise a vote at the settlement web site. They can send most of the money to the Claimy McClaimface Foundation if they so desire...

  15. Alter Hase

    Re: Distribution

    Let the claimants determine the distribution of cy pres payments. The beneficiaries can be determined by crowd-sourcing amongst all claimants that choose to exercise a vote at the settlement web site. They can send most of the money to the Claimy McClaimface Foundation if they so desire...

    I like it!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's some alternate distribution methods that might be interesting.

    1. Lottery - Put class members into a random drawing, and change at least a few of their lives. If they're not able to distribute the settlement evenly, then why not make it fun, and change the lives of at least a handful of people

    2. Annual Checks - Keep pooling the money from all of these types of settlements into a single escrow account, and whenever the balance clears at least $32.57 Billion (or whatever it would take to cover the actual cost) everyone in the country gets a check for $100. Depending on how fast that account fills up, it could be more or less--so it would only happen when the amount is at least $100, but the payments wouldn't go out more than once a year. In theory, if it fills up quickly--folks could start getting some decent sized payouts.

    3. Vote - Allow class members to submit proposals how to spend the money, and then have them all vote on it. Technically, people would actually be deciding where to spend their share of the proceeds, rather than one person, one vote. For example, if a settlement was only $0.04 they could divide it across as many as 4 proposals, or dump it all into one. Since everyone isn't likely to participate, a specified window of time, whatever shares weren't distributed, because people didn't bother voting, would be distributed across all the causes that weren't fully funded, proportionate to the number of votes they received.

    4. Burn it - Take the money out of circulation completely. If you were to take it a step further, just use it to buy precious metals, and then destroy them--if you have a weak stomach you can sped it on bitcoin and delete it. Anything to add value to everyone else's money is alright by me!

    The thing I like about option 3, is that it could be literally anything, from charities, research projects, businesses, government programs, and probably more than a few goofs as well. I'm sure that for every kid with special needs that gets a free trip to space camp, that there will be a few flat earthers that need money to get launched into space. Sure, money will be wasted on pointless things from time to time, but as long as the money doesn't directly, or indirectly reward the people who are supposed to be punished--that's all that matters.

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