Google sued for data collection via Wi-Fi

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More lawsuits in US.

Google this week was hit with a third class-action lawsuit over its admitted collection of information from unprotected Wi-Fi networks.

The most recent lawsuit was filed in a federal district court in Massachusetts by Carp Law Offices on behalf of internet service provider Galaxy Internet Services and its wireless customers, along with all other affected Wi-Fi users in Massachusetts. According to the complaint, Google's collection of “payload” data – the information sent to and from users over Wi-Fi networks – was in violation of Massachusetts' new data privacy law, as well as federal regulations.

Galaxy Internet Services is seeking damages totaling US$10 million on behalf of itself and its customers. In addition, Google is facing two similar lawsuits over the privacy violation filed last week in Oregon and California.

Google earlier this month admitted that its Street View cars, which capture photos for Google Maps and Google Earth, have since 2006 mistakenly collected payload data from Wi-Fi networks that were not password protected.

“Quite simply, it was a mistake,” Google said in a blog post.

Google explained that a piece of code written for an experimental Wi-Fi project mistakenly wound up in its Street View code, causing the inadvertent data collection and storage.

“This is sort of a situation where a technology company collected personal information that it did not really want to collect and probably had no intention of using, but it nonetheless collected this information,” Gary Kibel, a partner at New York-based law firm Davis & Gilbert, which specialises in privacy and data security issues. “It shows how even inadvertent mistakes in the area of privacy can result in unwanted publicity and potentially legal liability.”

According to the Massachusetts complaint, Google collected 600 gigabytes of payload data, which included email, video, audio components, documents and other personal and business data sent over the internet.

“Google had no reason to collect Wi-Fi information,” Robert Carp, Galaxy Internet Services' lawyer, said in a statement.

A Google spokesman told that the search giant is not commenting on the lawsuits.

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