Home Google Faces Lawsuit Over Wifi Data Collection

Google Faces Lawsuit Over Wifi Data Collection

Google is facing another lawsuit today as two Oregonians have filed a writ in an Oregon district court. The writ is part of a class action lawsuit against Google accusing the company of privacy violations when its Street View vehicles collected data from unsecured wireless connections.

The suit, brought by Vicki Van Valin and Neil Mertz, seeks to collect for damages and to prevent Google from destroying payload data that could be used as evidence.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin admitted that the company “screwed up” at a press conference yesterday and in a blog post last week attempted to explain the screw-up.

In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data. A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google’s Street View cars, they included that code in their software–although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data.

The lawsuit alleges that Google collected and decoded data using packet sniffers and then stored this data on its servers. According to a Tech Eye article, the writ alleges that, “On information and belief, hundreds if not thousands of Google employees throughout the United States and the world have access to data maintained on Google’s servers.” It goes on to explain that the plaintiffs could be entitled to $100 a day for each day this data was stored, or $10,000 per violation per plaintiff.

The first commenter on the Tech Eye article brought up a good point, we thought, asking “To get this straight, they publicly broadcast their wifi data without any encryption. And now they’re suing somebody for listening to it?”

Google’s response has been quick and appropriate. Had Google been intentionally gathering data for nefarious purposes, we might be having a different conversation, but that is not the case.

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