Lawyers pushing a Facebook privacy settlement are trying to fend off critics by suggesting in a Thursday filing (pdf) that privacy organizations are raising objections because they didn't get a piece of the action.
Facebook settled a class action in September over its controversial Beacon advertising program that broadcast to friends what movies its users were renting online, among other personal details. Facebook agreed to stop the program and give $9.5 million to a new organization that would study online privacy.
Six privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, sent a letter (pdf) to Northern District of California Judge Richard Seeborg raising concerns that the new organization won't be independent. They claim that Internet users would be better served if the money was used to fund existing nonprofits already fighting the good fight.
An attorney who works at EPIC, Ginger McCall, filed an official objection Feb. 1 (pdf) as a member of the class and a Facebook user.
"The settlement provides no damages or other relief for class members other than Facebook's promise to disband a program that it voluntarily shut down long ago," McCall's objection says. "Rather than providing actual relief, the settlement would create an unneeded foundation over which Facebook retains unwarranted influence."
Objectors -- of which there are four total -- have also taken issue with the lawyers' fee requests. Scott Kamber, attorney for the plaintiffs, and a handful of other law firms that worked on the case are asking for nearly $3 million.
Kamber tried to squash those concerns in the motion to approve the settlement, which will be heard by Seeborg on Feb. 26. Kamber writes that EPIC's president and Georgetown University law professor Marc Rotenberg called him in September, a week after the sides filed for preliminary approval.
Rotenberg "pointedly stated that the settlement fund[s] should go to EPIC," according to Kamber's declaration (pdf), and stated that "consumer privacy interests could only be effectively served only by giving control of the settlement fund to him, as executive director of EPIC."
Kamber also calls into question McCall's objection because she's a lawyer at EPIC.
"At the bottom line, Ms. McCall's objection and EPIC's letter offer no useful information as to the character of the settlement and most appropriately should be considered in the factual context of Mr. Kamber's conversation with [Marc] Rotenberg of EPIC, in which Mr. Rotenberg was quite plain about the interests he sought to promote," writes Kamber.
Kamber, Rotenberg and Michael Rhodes, a Cooley Godward Kronish partner representing Facebook, all declined to comment publicly.
The new privacy organization would have three directors: Larry Magid, an Internet safety advocate; Chris Hoofnagle, a Berkeley law professor; and Facebook executive Tim Sparapani. Kamber and Rhodes would be on the legal advisory board.
In the privacy groups' letter to the court, EPIC claims the new organization will likely become a "public relations organization for Facebook" and not protect Internet users.
Another privacy organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, filed a letter with the court this week supporting the settlement.