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Google Buzz Class Action Settlement – Gmail email

Tonight I received the following email to one of my Gmail accounts from Google and thought it would be interesting to those outside the US (where I’m currently visiting) who may not have received it:

Google rarely contacts Gmail users via email, but we are making an exception to let you know that we’ve reached a settlement in a lawsuit regarding Google Buzz (http://buzz.google.com), a service we launched within Gmail in February of this year.

Shortly after its launch, we heard from a number of people who were concerned about privacy. In addition, we were sued by a group of Buzz users and recently reached a settlement in this case.

The settlement acknowledges that we quickly changed the service to address users’ concerns. In addition, Google has committed $8.5 million to an independent fund, most of which will support organizations promoting privacy education and policy on the web. We will also do more to educate people about privacy controls specific to Buzz. The more people know about privacy online, the better their online experience will be.

Just to be clear, this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation. Everyone in the U.S. who uses Gmail is included in the settlement, unless you personally decide to opt out before December 6, 2010. The Court will consider final approval of the agreement on January 31, 2011. This email is a summary of the settlement, and more detailed information and instructions approved by the court, including instructions about how to opt out, object, or comment, are available at http://www.BuzzClassAction.com.

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This mandatory announcement was sent to all Gmail users in the United States as part of a legal settlement and was authorized by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Google Inc. | 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway | Mountain View, CA 94043

It’s worth noting that the settlement only applies to US users. I’m not entirely sure why I was sent the email as I’m based in the UK, but perhaps I’ve not changed the location in the settings of one account.

The ethics of real-time social reporting

Paul Carr has written a thought provoking post for TechCrunch looking at the role of social media and real-time citizen reporting in last week’s Fort Hood shootings.

He asks how, even with the best intentions, how many of us are often drawn into a acting in a way of “look at me looking at this” and may be losing a sense of our humanity:

…none of us think we’re being selfish or egotistic when we tweet something, or post a video on YouTube or check-in using someone’s address on Foursquare. It’s just what we do now, no matter whether we’re heading out for dinner or witnessing a massacre on an Army base. Like Lord of the Flies, or the Stanford Prison Experiment, as long as we’re all losing our perspective at the same time – which, as a generation growing up with social media we are – then we don’t realise that our humanity is leaking away until its too late.

He then points to this video, which seems to summarise these darker sides of our human nature.

Balancing such difficulties and how to best report breaking news is something that journalists are trained to do, although mistakes do happen particularly in the highly competitive atmosphere of 24 hour news. Journalists also usually work as part of a team and rarely does news go live without editorial decisions being made.

Although not wide spread, when consuming news from main stream sources many of us have learnt how to interpret what we are hearing, reading or watching. We have learnt some basic literacies, such as the brand identity, the ownership of a newspaper, editorial standards, advertorials, PR. We also roughly know, or think we do, the agenda or philospohy of a media player, mention any of the following and you will immediately have thoughts about them: Fox News, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Channel 4.

We have learnt these skills over time, and as much as there is a need for citizens to be aware of ethics and their humanity around what they broadcast, we also have a responsibility to be literate in understanding what our friends, colleagues, followers broadcast to us and how we respond. Do we repeat what’s told us – which is now only takes a click – or do we take a few moments to consider a different response, to question what’s being told us, whether it breaches someone else’s privacy, whether it is appropriate?

In some ways these problems aren’t new. Gossip and news has always travelled quickly. What’s different is that the reach and speed now possible and the wider and deeper impact there in.

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Also see the reflections on Paul’s post by Euan Semple and Antony Mayfield.

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UPDATE 6pm 8/11/2009: In preparation for some other work later this week I came across the Charter for Media Literacy written by the Media Literacy Task Force which was set up in 2004 with support from the UK government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The task force state that: “A media literate society is therefore not a luxury, it is a necessity in the 21st Century – for social, economic, cultural and political reasons”.

And it has has high goals:

If people are to participate fully at work or in their community, or communicate effectively with family, friends and colleagues globally, or consume media intelligently they need to be media savvy. They need to understand how media works and to feel comfortable questioning what they watch and read. They need a sense of who knows or owns what, and to what extent what you see is really what you get. And, very importantly, they need to become confident in using and exploiting the possibilities of new devices and media channels.

[Full Charter here – PDF]

Updated in July 2009 it deserves commendation and has been signed up to by many of the major media organisations and educators in the UK.

But what it possibly lacks is the need for awareness around some of the more legal and ethical issues that surround social media. Not only that of privacy, accuracy and verification, but also issues such as copyright and data protection.

It’s more than just media literacy really. As Antony Mayfield summarises it is literacy across “social/digital/media”.

UPDATE 10/11/2009: Also worth reading on this subject: Bill Thompson’s BBC column for this week.

New course: Legal issues of social media

GavelI’ve been working with the Ark Group over the last few weeks to develop a new course in social media and the law in the UK, which I’m going to be running on the 2 December 2009.

The aim of the course is to be very practical and hands on, looking as much at preventative measures as what to do when things go wrong. The course will look at issues such as:
Copyright, rights and intellectual property
Defamation
Privacy and data protection
Contempt of court
Breach of contract
Unfair trading

I’m also really happy that a specialist lawyer will be joining us for one of the sessions in the afternoon to answer questions and go through newer aspects of the law.

More details and how to book here.

Vodafone 360 launch – questions on privacy

Vodafone 360 Audio Boo
Listen: Vodafone 360 Audio Boo
Last night I attended the Vodafone 360 global launch party in Shoreditch, London (not quite as huge as it sounds, but fun none the less). Vodafone describe the new service as:

Vodafone 360 is a brand new set of internet services for the mobile and PC which gathers all of a customer’s friends, communities, entertainment and personal favourites (like music, games, photos and video) in one place

The emphasis is on the social element of mobile and internet usage and the ability to sync (or bring together) your different contacts and social presence on different sites together with your mobile contacts.

Christian Payne (aka Documentally) interviewed mobile guru Helen Keegan and I on our thoughts of the new service, and in particular some of our concerns about privacy.

>> Listen here.

I had three main queries:

  1. Did it sync with Gmail?
  2. Where was the data saved – on the phone, in the cloud, on a Vodafone server?
  3. How were privacy standards of users maintained, both of 360 service users and their contacts?

In the interview Helen made some interesting points about whether such concerns over privacy are cultural, and pointed out that they very much greater in the UK than they are in other countries.

Terence Eden of Vodafone kindly got back to me on these queries via Twitter as follows:

documentally – RT @edent: I heard all 16mins of http://boo.fm/b65672 @Kcorrick yes, it supports Gmail. Stored securely in cloud. Privacy v important

edent – @kcorrick privacy needs to be front & centre – also needs tight user friendly controls. I know we comply with DPA etc.

edent – @kcorrick FYI the guy managing Vodafone People is @alexfc – he should know the answers to your privacy questions.

These are encouraging signs and it’s fantastic that people like Terence are engaged to respond personally. This isn’t just an issue specific to Vodafone. As more and more of our data gets brought together like this – sometimes unbeknownst to us on services our friends and contacts use – we need to be aware of what’s going on, what controls we have over the information, who owns it and how it can be used, and whether we are comfortable with the answers we receive.