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US top court weakens Google settlement in internet privacy case

FILE PHOTO: The Google logo is pictured at the entrance of the Google offices in London, Britain, 18 January 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

WASHINGTON – The US Supreme court on Wednesday doubts about a $8.5 million settlement Google had agreed to pay at the end of an internet privacy dispute, directing a lower court to determine whether plaintiffs, who accused the search-engine operator of the injustice in a class-action lawsuit were legally eligible to sue.

The plaintiffs argued that Google is a part of the Alphabet Inc., violated federal privacy law by allowing other websites to see users ‘ searches.

The judges threw out a ruling of the San Francisco-based 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had upheld the settlement and directed it to take a fresh look at the question of whether the plaintiffs had actually been harmed by Google, and had the necessary legal status.

The dispute focused on an increasingly common form of settlement in class action cases, used when it might be practical to cut to a low value of the individual harm to a large number of the plaintiffs. In adherence to the Google settlement in 2017, the 9th Circuit said that each of the 129 million US users of Google, which theoretically would have claimed that part of the would have received, “a paltry 4 cents in the recovery.”

Proponents have said that this “cy pres” (pronounced “see pray”) regulations can convert otherwise negligible prices per person to good use by the beneficiary groups working for the public cause or support underfunded entities. Critics have said that the settlements encourage frivolous lawsuits and excessive costs of the plaintiffs lawyers.

The Google settlement was challenged by lawyers including Ted Frank of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, which advocates against what it considers abuse class action procedures.

The plaintiffs in the case claimed that their privacy is violated when their search terms were spread by Google to other sites. They searched for her own name, another for the financial and medical data, and a third for information related to his divorce.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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