Google Agrees To Resolve Wi-Spy Lawsuit

Google has tentatively agreed to settle an 8-year-old privacy battle over the collection of data by its Street View cars, according to court papers filed Tuesday.

Details of the settlement, which has not yet been finalized, haven't been revealed. If accepted by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco, the settlement will resolve a class-action lawsuit stemming from revelations that the company's Street View cars collected a host of data -- including URLs, passwords and emails -- sent over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

News about Google's data gathering sparked investigations into the company, both in the U.S. and abroad. In 2013, Google agreed to pay $7 million to settle with more than 30 state attorneys general who were investigating the so-called "Wi-Spy" debacle. The company also was fined $25,000 in 2012 by the Federal Communications Commission for failing to cooperate with that agency's probe.

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In addition, revelations about the data gathering sparked a class-action suit by consumers who alleged the company violated the federal wiretap law. Google apologized for the interceptions and said it intended to destroy the data, but also argued that the company didn't violate any laws. The company argued that the class-action should be dismissed on the grounds that the federal wiretap law only prohibits interceptions from Wi-Fi networks that are protected by passwords.

Google based its argument on a section of the law that allows the interception of "radio communications” that are “readily accessible to the general public.” The company contended that transmissions sent through open networks are accessible to the public at large, and therefore not subject to the prohibition.

In 2013, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Google's argument, ruling that Wi-Fi transmissions are not "readily accessible" to the public, because most people aren't able to decode data transmitted over Wi-Fi. Google unsuccessfully attempted to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.

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