Google IO 2015 Coverage

Privacy concerns regarding Google’s Street View headed to Supreme Court


Last September, an appeals court ruled that Google’s Street View Wi-Fi sniffing tactics violated the Wiretap Act, and now Google is asking the Supreme Court to overrule that decision.

In order to get accurate Street View data, Google sniffs unencrypted Wi-Fi networks such as nearby homes and businesses. Some people see it as wiretapping, but Google thinks capturing unencrypted Wi-Fi is not wiretapping. After further investigations, it was found that an engineer was electronically eavesdropping as part of a 20-percent project, but he also urged the company’s legal team to “weigh in” before deploying the code to the Street View fleet.  That request “slipped through the cracks,” and Google apologized with the understanding they would destroy the never used data.

Google was successful with the Justice Department and the FCC, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them back in September. There are over a dozen merged class action suits involving this issue. Now Google is asking the Supreme Court to overrule the Court of Appeals decision and end these class action suits.

The concern is that if the Supreme Court rules in Google’s favor, this could be seen as an advantage for criminals who sniff out passwords or credit card numbers on public access points. Google argues that the Court of Appeals decision is actually bad for computer security since it could stop legitimate security scanning.

I guess we will have to keep our eyes on this one.

source: Wired


  • Andy J

    Well, that’s a load of bollocks. Google for whatever reason captured unencrypted WiFi data – on purpose or by accident, but the data is NOT needed for pinpointing the Street View cars location. The Street View car uses GPS, the collection of MAC addresses and WiFi network names (which is perfectly legal) allows Google to provide a location to people who have a device that can see those networks. However – they don’t do this anymore either, nowadays they rely on people running Google Maps which reports what networks can be seen at various GPS coordinates. The Street View cars are NOT now sniffing WiFi data, they are capturing the publicly transmitted data that ANY WiFi device has access to – that’s the SSID (or beacon) of the network and the MAC address of the transmitting station – be that a router, a wireless access point or something else.