Did Google take data from your WiFi?

We might all be part of a class-action lawsuit against Google

It looks as though there is a line forming to sue Google over its collecting wireless user data with the company's Street View camera vehicles.

As Google’s camera cars ambled down streets taking and uploading pictures, they also allegedly scooped up some other data fragments from unencrypted wireless networks. Massachusetts is trying to get all Wi-Fi users in the state as part of a class action suit, while Oregon wants its class to include users in Oregon and Washington state. California, meanwhile, is seeking class-action status for all U.S. residents. Really? I’m suing Google now?

Google had admitted earlier this month that the company has been collecting this data for a couple years, and didn’t realize it was doing it. Google claims that code for an early experimental project wound up in the Street View code. Whether you believe Google, I can tell you from experience that version control is the second hardest thing to accomplish in software development. The only thing more difficult is getting programmers to document their code. The more people that work on a project, the harder it is to make sure that the most current version of each and every piece is present before you compile the code. This makes me inclined to believe Google when it says it was unintentional.

Intentional or not, is it actionable? Some attorneys have said that there may not be a case because the data was already publicly accessible. Also, plaintiffs may have to prove that a person’s specific data was collected in order to be part of the suit. So I may not be suing Google after all.

Unfortunately, what companies like Google may learn from this is that when you make a mistake, stay quiet. Google made the announcement of the discovery that the company had inadvertently been collecting this data, and as thanks for its honesty, the company gets sued by everyone in the U.S.

I don’t really have a good answer here. I just know I need to get my suit dry-cleaned. I want to make a good impression in court in case I end up suing Google.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

Reader Comments

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 Craig Virginia

My neighbors, despite repeated recommendation, have failed to secure their home WiFi network. They are broadcasting, in effect, all the info on their network. So, as I understand the possible lawsuit, Google is being sued for receiving an intended broadcast signal? Hmmm...can the Dish Network sue me for receiving their signal, even though I'm not a subscriber? That makes no sense. It might make more sense for Google to sue owners of unsecured networks for spamming .

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 Larry Florida

GCN should provide the name(s) of the law firms initiating (or at least participating in the filing of such lawsuits. Such bottom-feeders need to be idnetified and subject to public rebute. If someone can identify and publish what legal actions that groups and individuals can take to make these actions unprofitable for the money-gragging scumbags I am sure that many in addition to myself would eagerly take up the cause.

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 Jeff KCMO

Intentional or not, I do not think Google did anything wrong. The information was made public, so it was just out there waiting for someone to take it. I think this is just another worthless lawsuit for some lawyers to make some money. The lawyers should be sued for a frivolous lawsuit and defamation of character. Google was doing the right thing, by admitting what happened and now they are punished for it???

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 Gene

Thirty years ago, someone sued one of the early satellite television providers, complaining that they scrambled the signal and made it unusable to non-subscribers. The plaintiff’s case, if you can call it that, was: if you don’t want me intercepting your signal, keep it out of my backyard. (?)
The obvious defense, never stated explicitly, was: we don’t care if you intercept our signal, but we’re under no obligation to present it in a mode convenient to you.

Tue, Jun 1, 2010

See http://ping.tm-systems.net/?page_id=664 for a blog entry that examines the impact of a recent (Jan. 28, 2010) court ruling that “the failure to password-protect a wireless network can diminish the extent to which the Fourth Amendment protects computers and information on that network from government searches.” While the finding doesn't completely do away with the presumption of privacy for information that is easily overheard by a third party, it is a step in the right direction.

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