“Buzz” and “social media”: When you think of these words, you’re probably less likely to think of Google’s social media service that goes by the name of “buzz” and more likely to think of the Hollywood buzz behind “that Facebook movie”.

And that means something, as Google’s attempts to beat Facebook at its own game are (so far) coming up empty. This ongoing social media war between the Internet heavyweights took another interesting turn today, as Google sent out a rare direct email to all Gmail users announcing the settlement of “a lawsuit regarding Google Buzz, a service we launched within Gmail in February of this year.”

The lawsuit boils down to this: A number of class-action lawsuits were filed against Google because Buzz made the names of users’ Gmail contacts public, and without really letting everyone know this was happening. The lawsuits were consolidated into one class-action case, which Google has now received judicial approval to settle.

Or, as Google puts it in today’s email: “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.”

No comment on the privacy concerns, but it is interesting that, despite that charitably invested 8.5 million, Google makes a point of stating that “this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation.”

The lawsuit has been in the works for a while, and it hasn’t helped the media’s image of Buzz. In recent weeks, PC World has called it one of Google’s worst innovations, and TechCrunch nicely summed up the current media consensus by saying that, really, nobody seems to talk about or even use Google Buzz. It’s still very much Facebook’s world, in other words, at least in terms of social media.

Then there’s the news that Lars Rasmussen, one of Google’s chief innovative minds and the developer of Google Maps, has left Google and joined Facebook.

For now, it seems like Facebook’s social reign of power is pretty safe.

Nathan Denny
November 2, 2010

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