The Supreme Court on Wednesday punted questions over a Google privacy case settlement to a lower court.
The justices said in their unsigned opinion that they could not determine whether the $8.5 million settlement was doled out fairly.
Google in 2010 settled a class-action lawsuit with individuals who said the company was violating users' privacy rights. Because the case was brought on behalf of 129 million Google users, and Google had agreed to pay $8.5 million, the parties agreed to a "cy-près" settlement, meaning the money went to the plaintiffs' lawyers and six hand-selected outside groups.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 affirmed the district court's approval of the settlement, but now the Supreme Court is asking the appeals court to reconsider the issue.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a digital rights group, last year argued that the settlement offered "no benefit to Internet users and no change in the business practices of defendant Google."
At issue is the legality of settlements that only include “cy-près” funds, which reward outside groups and lawyers but not the plaintiffs.
The settlement directed the funds to be given to groups that work on internet privacy issues, including university college research centers. The plaintiffs did not receive the money and Google did not have to significantly alter its privacy practices.
Justice Clarence Thomas in a dissenting opinion on Wednesday said he would have reversed the settlement.
The plaintiffs in 2010 argued that Google was violating internet privacy rules by sharing information on what terms users searched for with third parties.