Google has been taking its lumps overseas recently, facing increased scrutiny from both European regulators and citizens for its privacy practices. Now a long-pending case in the United States could bring similar tensions home, as a group of plaintiffs aim to prove that cars used in Google’s Street View mapping services accidentally collected private information between 2008 and 2010.
Bloomberg reports that last week, a Mountainview, Calif. judge ordered Google to work alongside plaintiffs lawyers to determine whether the contents of two hard drives used during the mapping process could reveal private information about U.S. citizens. The move comes after attempts by Google to block the lawsuit were rebuffed at the Supreme Court level. Should plaintiffs be able to determine that the information collected contains private information, the price tag for Google could be steep.
“There’s a good reason Google is bringing every potential defense,” said Alan Butler, senior counsel at Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center told Bloomberg in a recent article, “It has to be the biggest wiretap case in U.S. history.”
Between 2008 and 2010, as part of their mapping process, Google Street View cars identified and connected to Wi-Fi networks in order to triangulate coordinates. In doing so, they collected passwords, emails and other sensitive information from the users of those networks. Google has admitted that information was collected but insists that the data was incomplete fragments. While the company does not believe that the information collected could be reassembled in such a way that would make it useable, this will be the first time it has allowed outside agents to try.
Google and plaintiffs have been given 28 days to select an expert to examine the information, following that, said expert will deliver his findings to both sides. No deadline has been given yet.
While class action status has not yet been considered in the case, $10,000 is currently being requested per affected user. Given the fact that millions of users could have had their networks compromised and you get an idea of what Google could owe.
Though the issue may sound relatively serious, the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission both declined to take action against Google over the practice. The company did receive a $25,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission however.