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Two hard drives may decide Google's fate in data collection lawsuit

20 people are suing Google for capturing private data from Wi-Fi networks through Google's Street View Cars.
October 1, 2014

Google has spent a significant amount of time over the last few years dealing with questions about their data collection practices.

Four years, Google admitted that they had mistakenly gathered data from open Wi-Fi networks at the same time it collected publicly broadcast SSID information and MAC addresses for use in future geolocation services. But Google claims that only fragments of data were captured because data collection occurred five times a second.

Currently, more than 20 people are currently suing Google for capturing private data from private Wi-Fi networks through Google’s Street View Cars. The lawsuit consolidates multiple suits that were filed in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Oregon. The plaintiffs are asking for $10,000 in damages for each affected Wi-Fi user whose information was collected by Google Street View cars from 2008-2010.


According to Bloomberg, two hard drives being stored inside the federal courthouse in San Francisco may decide the fate of the case. If the people can find usernames, passwords and emails on the hard drives, it will open the door to possibly billions of dollars of damages from Google. But if the information is not uncovered, then those bringing the lawsuit likely won’t be able to prove they were victimized, meaning they would have no standing to sue.

“There’s a good reason Google is bringing every potential defense,” said Alan Butler, senior counsel at Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has weighed in against Google in court. “It has to be the biggest wiretap case in U.S. history.” – Bloomberg

Google tried to block the lawsuit by claiming that the federal Wiretap Act didn’t apply to its data collection practices. But last week, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer last week determined that Google must work with plaintiffs’ lawyers to assess what information is included on the two hard drives. Google’s lawyers had opposed turning over the hard drives and claimed that the request for access was simply a “fishing expedition” that would just expose private information.

Now, both Google and the plaintiff’s have 28 days to agree on a technical expert to review the hard drives or let the magistrate choose one.