Supreme Court Says Google Has to Answer to Federal Wiretap Lawsuit

In a blow for the search engine giant, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that it would not consider Google’s challenge to a class-action lawsuit regarding its Street View cars and their supposedly inadvertent collection of consumer data.

The lawsuit, which alleges that Google violated federal wiretap law, came after Google admitted that, in addition to taking photographs for their mapping service with Street View cars, Google also collected “payload” data that was being sent via unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Such data can include everything from email addresses to passwords.

Google admitted to collecting the data when questioned by German authorities, and said it was an accident. The company has stopped collecting the data, and says it has never used it for any commercial or private purpose. The lawsuit alleges that Google collected the data from 2008 to 2010 with the hopes of using it to improve their Street View services.

Google has already paid up on some charges — in 2013, Google agreed to pay a $7 million settlement fine after 38 states collectively investigated the company’s involvement with personal data collection. As part of the agreement, Google said it would destroy all the data it collected and better educate employees. While that lawsuit was settled, the company is still vulnerable to private lawsuits.

In fighting the federal Wiretap Act — which bans anyone or any company from intercepting electronic communications — Google argued that Wi-Fi transmissions weren’t covered, since the act has traditionally been applied to phone communications. The Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals, though, refused to dismiss the case on those grounds, and the Supreme Court of the United States — also known as the last line of appeal for many cases — decided to let the ruling stand.

Google may have hoped the issue would get swept under the rug and forgotten, but it doesn’t look like that will be happening anytime soon. 

“I don’t think Google was out there attempting to collect sensitive data about users from unsecured WAPs, they really have nothing to gain from it. If they wanted user data, there are better ways for them to go about getting it.” says Tim McDonald, Marketing Manager ofRankXpress

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