Google could be sued for stealing data from open wi-fi networks

International Business Times
July 1, 2011

A judge in San Francisco decided that the company’s actions may have violated federal laws on wiretapping.

Despite Google’s attempts to have the lawsuit thrown out by repeatedly that anyone could have intercepted the wireless signals, the internet Giant could still face prosecution, as it had previously admitted collecting the data by mistake while gathering images for its Street View service.

Since the allegations first emerged, Google has stopped its Street View cars logging wi-fi networks, which previously involved sampling packets of data from wireless hotspots.

Once on unencrypted networks the system was able to access logins, passwords and other personal details and more than 600MB of data was said to have been collected in 30 countries.

As soon as the evidences first emerged, , Google apologised for its action, explaining that blaming a coding error was responsible for the malfunction and it maintained it would , and delete the data, but that did not stop investigations to be launched in several countries.

France fined Google 100,000 euros (£87,000) over the breach and in the US, a class action lawsuit was brought on behalf of plaintiffs from nine states.

During the case, which is being heard in California where Google’s headquarters is located, the firm tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the data gathering was inadvertent but the U.S District Court Judge James Ware disagreed and said that just because a wi-fi network was open did not mean it was meant to be public.

“Merely pleading that a network is unencrypted does not render that network readily accessible to the general public,” Judge Ware wrote in his decision.

The fact that Google used some specialist equipment meant it was was liable for prosecution under federal wiretap laws.

Judge Ware threw out several other elements of the complaint against Google, relating to state laws on wiretapping and unfair competition.

In a statement, the company dismissed the claims and said it would consider the latest ruling before deciding whether to launch an appeal.

“We believe these claims are without merit and that the court should have dismissed the wiretap claim just as it dismissed the plaintiffs’ other claims. We’re still evaluating our options at this preliminary stage,” Google said in a statement to the WSJ.

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