Google Faces Further US Scrutiny Over ‘WiSpy’

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A class action suit against Google over Street View Wi-Fi snooping has taken another step forward in the US

Google has potentially violated federal wiretapping laws in the US by collecting data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks with its Street View camera cars, and can be sued, a judge in California has ruled.

In an attempt to fend off the lawsuit, Google claimed anyone could have intercepted the wireless signals, but this was dismissed by US District Court Judge James Ware.

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

Probable cause

He ruled that the complainants could continue their lawsuit as they had sufficiently stated their claim that the federal Wiretap Act had been violated.

However, a claim under California’s unfair competition statute was thrown, as were alleged violations of state wiretap statutes.

The case is being heard in California, where Google is headquartered, but because Google used specialist equipment it could be liable for prosecution under federal wiretap laws.

“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,” said a Google statement. “We’re still evaluating our options at this preliminary stage.”

Caught in the act

The situation – dubbed by the press as ‘WiSpy’ – first came to light when German data protection authorities asked the company what information its Street View cars were collecting.

As well taking pictures, its Street View cars also logged Wi-Fi networks to help with its location services.

The intention was to sample data packets, but on unsecured networks this meant user names, passwords and other personal details were also logged. Google says this was a mistake attributable to a coding error and has since stopped its cars logging Wi-Fi networks.

Following the revelation, there were investigations in several countries including the UK, and France fined Google €100,000 (£87,000).

In the US, a class action suit is when a group of people collectively make or defend a claim.

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