Google will pay just a $13 million settlement to end a privacy-focused lawsuit formed based on Google’s mass data collection, as it relates to scooping up data from people’s Wi-Fi connections in their home.
In 2010, it was revealed that Google’s Street View cars (the ones that roam the streets taking images that are used to build Google Maps’ Street View feature) were sucking up personal information such as emails, passwords, and more from unencrypted home Wi-Fi networks up and down the country. As Google’s Street View car drove past houses, it was sucking up data indiscriminately.
Google admitted to the practice – though said it was an “accident” and, at the time, the “Wi-Spy” lawsuit suggested that it was one of the greatest wiretap lawsuits ever and a threat of billions of dollars in damages loomed over Google’s head.
However, nine years later, Google has settled the suit for just $13 million. If Google had gone to trial over this suit, the Federal Wiretap act would be invoked and, if found guilty, Google would have to pay out $10,000 for every person whose personal details were swept up in their abusive Street Car data collection practices.
In 2013, Google argued that it was perfectly legal to intercept Wi-Fi signals, and suggested that they were as open as radio signals such as those from public FM/AM radio. This idea was rejected by the court.
Google’s lawyers suggested that it was too difficult to identify those people that were affected by the practice as the data collected was incomplete and random – nothing that would help to track down individuals very easily.
The court ordered that Google must destroy all collected data related to the incident as well make an effort to teach people about encrypted connections and educate people on ways to help ensure their privacy and increase security on their routers and internet connections.
As part of the agreed settlement – after legal fees are paid – the remainder of the $13 million be will be shared out amongst several consumer privacy groups.
Considering the scope of the privacy violation, Google’s fine is relatively small compared to the fines received for other big-tech privacy invaders.
Recently, Facebook was fined $5 billion for its privacy scandals and, when that was announced, there were still many who believed that a $5 billion fine wasn’t enough.
Google’s fine is a drop in the ocean in relation to the scale and breadth of the company – with $13 million being less than a sixth of the daily income of its parent company Alphabet.