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July 02, 2014

A Look into Google's Street View Snooping Case

By Lavanya Rathnam, TMCnet Contributing Writer

Google (News - Alert) has received much attention from media, the Federal Trade Commission and society at large for its snooping activities. Some of these activities have led to lawsuits, and private deals that have cost the Internet giant a considerable amount of money. The latest in its snooping case is the declination made by the United States Supreme Court, as the justices refused to hear Google's appeal on an earlier ruling. By doing so, the Supreme Court has let the ruling of the lower courts stand.

The lawsuit was first filed by Benjamin Joffe in 2010. Joffe claimed Google accessed emails, passwords, credit card details and usernames through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. According to the lawsuit, Google used cameras on mounted vehicles to collect this information. While the original intent of the cameras on mounted vehicles was to collect street view data for its maps application, it ended up collecting additional information that was transmitted over the Wi-Fi network as well.

Google retaliated by stating that when information is available on an unencrypted network, it becomes public access. It further argued that it did not violate the wiretap law because any information sent over a Wi-Fi network amounts to radio communication. Furthermore, Google has argued that it did not use the information collected over Wi-Fi networks to create new products or services, and has claimed that it stopped the practice after the case was filed.

This case was heard in the federal appeals court in San Francisco, and the bench ruled picking up information over public networks amounted to a violation of privacy because it was collected without the explicit consent of the users.

Going forward, this rejection by the Supreme Court can pave the way for a class action suit that could cost Google millions of dollars and even worse, the loss of users. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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