Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.
Thank you very much;
you're only a step away from
downloading your reports.

The Story Behind the Story in the Google Buzz Lawsuit


You know the outcome. But how it started is much more interesting.

The tech world's premier social networking application is, as many know, is Facebook. Others have had extremely limited success in the same area.

There's Apple's (AAPL) Ping.

News Corp.'s (NWS) MySpace.

And the disastrous Google (GOOG) Buzz.

Yesterday, Google announced it had reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit regarding privacy issues surrounding Google Buzz, the tech giant's less-than-successful attempt at a Facebook-killer.

Google's emailed statement read, in part:

"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."

But, how did it all start?

And why?

The story might surprise you -- and, at the same time, will likely not be much of a surprise at all.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 17 million underemployed college graduates.

Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees).

80,000 bartenders have degrees.

18,000 parking lot attendants are college grads.

When it comes to law school, obviously, after investing a few hundred thousand dollars in a J.D., students are highly concerned with post-graduate employment.

Any reasonable assumption would hold that Harvard Law students Eva Hibnick and Ben Osborn are no different, and didn't relish the idea of working at the Olive Garden (DRI) or Taco Bell (YUM) after they received their sheepskins.

Eva Hibnick? Ben Osborne? Who?

Let's backtrack to February this year.

On February 9, Eva Hibnick, a second-year student at Harvard Law, logged onto her Gmail account and saw that she, like Gmail's 31.2 million other users, had been automatically signed up for Google Buzz.

Hibnick, not realizing how to deactivate the service, complained to classmate Ben Osborn about what she deemed a privacy breach.

Being an ambitious young Harvard man, Osborn suggested to Hibnick that she may have a legal case.

Osborn took his idea to Professor William B. Rubenstein, for whom he happened to be working as a research assistant, learning the ropes of Rubenstein's specialty -- which happens to be… class action lawsuits.

Rubenstein contacted Washington, D.C. attorney Gary Mason, and, in short order, Eva Hibnick filed suit against Google in California's San Jose federal court on behalf of 31.2 million people that may or may not have had the same complaints as she -- with Rubenstein and Osborn serving as independent legal consultants.

Hibnick alleged breaches of several federal laws, including the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Federal Stored Communications Act, as well as California common and statutory law.

Not a bad endeavor to include on the resume of a fellow like Ben Osborn, who would be graduating only a few months later.

Or Eva Hibnick, who is due to graduate this spring.

Or William Rubenstein, for that matter. According to his faculty page, he has a sideline gig as an expert witness in class actions.

He was apparently quite impressed with Osborn's go-getter attitude.

"[Osborn's] identification of this as an issue reflects the fact that these social networking sites are a concern of the student generation," Rubenstein told the student paper. "The most important thing about this case to me is the initiative my students have shown."

Osborn even admitted he wasn't certain if Google had intentionally violated users' privacy.

"I don't know what Google's motive is in all of this," he said. "I think they were just trying to jump-start their social network."

And could someone about to graduate Harvard Law with a boatload of student debt have been trying to jump-start his career?

Anyway, while we're on the subject of privacy violations, how's about a picture of the lead plaintiff?

This is Eva Hibnick:

And this is Ben Osborn:

Now, one would assume that someone like Eva Hibnick, who was obviously intelligent enough to be accepted to an institution as prestigious as Harvard, might have noticed the button at the bottom of the Google Buzz announcement that permitted her to opt in or out:

Greg Knieriemen of a Cleveland IT integrator called the Chi Corporation, maintains that Eva Hibnick was simply a tech neophyte with little or no idea as to how social media works.

He took a screenshot of her Twitter page that showed precisely how unfamiliar she was with the most basic applications -- including Twitter itself.

The following year must have been an intense period of playing technological catch-up for Eva, as she apparently learned quite a bit, as Ms. Hibnick has now learned how to use the various privacy tools Twitter makes available:

Court documents show that Ben Osborn has lined up a job at an unnamed New York City law firm that is set to begin in 2011. Let's also assume Eva Hibnick has a plum gig waiting for her when she gets out of school. And let's not forget the fees Professor Rubenstein was paid for his work on the case.

The Google Buzz settlement has had a negligible benefit for Gmail users. But it was a hell of a senior project for a couple of enterprising Harvard Law students.

Follow the markets all day every day with a FREE 14 day trial to Buzz & Banter. Over 30 professional traders share their ideas in real-time. Learn more.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Videos