Court rules Google breaks law with Wi-Fi snooping

A US judge has ruled that Google did break the law when it scooped up unsecured wi-fi data while collecting images for Streetview.   Google had hoped to have the case dismissed, arguing that its “mistaken collection” of the data did not break wire-tapping laws.

Privacy experts called it a “landmark decision for internet privacy”.

Circuit judge Jay Bybee said: “Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbour’s unencrypted wi-fi network, members of the public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network.”

“The court made clear that federal privacy law applies to residential wi-fi networks,” said Marc Rotenburg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“Users should be protected when a company tries to capture data that travels between their laptop and their printer in their home.”

Between 2008 and 2010, Google collected data from unsecured wi-fi networks in 30 countries.
The data included emails, user names, passwords, images and documents.

Google has always claimed that the collection was inadvertent, following the mistaken inclusion of code, written by an unnamed Google engineer, in its Streetview software.

It later emerged that a senior manager was aware that data was being collected by Streetview cars.

In the US it has paid $7m (£4.4m) in US fines to settle a case involving 38 states.

The German privacy regulator, which exposed the issue in the first place, imposed fine of 145,000 euros ($192,500, £121,000) on the firm in April.

It described the debacle as “one of the biggest known data protection violations in history”.

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