Google+ Settlement: How to Submit a Claim over Privacy Bug and Get a Payout

American users of Google's now-defunct social networking platform may be eligible for a small payout as part of a $7.5 million settlement.

With a deadline of October 8, the litigation is open to anyone who had a Google+ profile in the U.S. between January 2015 and April 2019, and had "non-public" account data exposed as a result of a privacy bug Google announced in October 2018.

At the time, the firm confirmed it was closing Google+ for consumers after a sweep of third-party developer access found an issue which dated back years.

It confirmed in a blog that up to 500,000 Google+ accounts were potentially affected by a flaw that allowed developers access profile details that were supposed to be private, including names, email addresses, occupations, genders and ages.

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Despite saying that it had found no evidence any developer had been aware of the bug, Google conceded the platform was shuttering due to extremely low usage.

Google said its team "discovered and immediately patched" the bug in March 2018 but the issue was not disclosed to the public prior to the early October blog post.

The Wall Street Journal reported the company decided not to reveal the issue over fears it would have resulted in "regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage."

In March that year, Facebook was facing intense criticism surrounding its sharing of data with third parties and app developers, including Cambridge Analytica.

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"Whenever user data may have been affected, we go beyond our legal requirements and apply several criteria focused on our users in determining whether to provide notice," Google Vice President of Engineering Ben Smith wrote in the blog post.

"Our Privacy and Data Protection Office reviewed this issue, looking at the type of data involved, whether we could accurately identify the users to inform, whether there was any evidence of misuse, and whether there were any actions a developer or user could take in response. None of these thresholds were met in this instance."

Still, plaintiffs filed a class action suit after the bugs came to light. Google has denied all wrongdoing and liability for the issue but agreed to create a settlement fund of $7.5 million to provide compensation and stop any further claims from being lodged.

Claims can now be submitted online via a dedicated portal. If valid, the payout funds will be transferred via Paypal or via a digital check, court officials said.

A judge at the District Court for the Northern District of California, Edward J. Davila, had granted preliminary approval of the class action settlement on June 10.

But anyone who does decide to file for a claim in the class action should not expect an early retirement; the maximum payment for an individual claim is $12.

An online FAQ elaborates: "If sufficient funds remain after calculation of the aggregate initial maximum distribution of $5 per claimant, the allocation shall be recalculated on a pro rata basis up to a maximum distribution of up to $12 per claimant."

A final approval hearing on the "adequacy, reasonableness, and fairness" of the Google settlement is currently scheduled to be held at 9 a.m. on November 19 this year.

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The Google logo is seen on a phone in this photo illustration in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2019. ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty
Google+ Settlement: How to Submit a Claim over Privacy Bug and Get a Payout | Tech & Science