Google Likely To Resolve WiFi Snooping Case With Nonprofit Donations

Google likely will donate money to nonprofit organizations in order to settle a class-action privacy lawsuit stemming from the collection of data by its Street View cars, a new court filing suggests.

Details, including the total amount of the donations and the names of the recipients, are not yet publicly available. A copy of the settlement agreement was filed late Friday with U.S. Charles Breyer in San Francisco, but under seal. No public version was available as of Monday morning.

If accepted by Breyer, the settlement will resolve an 8-year-old battle stemming from revelations that the Google's Street View cars collected a host of data -- including URLs, passwords and emails -- sent over unencrypted WiFi networks.

News about the 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 a probe.

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A separate court filing, also made Friday, suggests that the settlement will involve donations to nonprofits or schools. In that document, lawyers for Google and the plaintiffs ask Breyer to pause the Wi-Fi privacy case until after the Supreme Court issues a decision that could set new rules for class-action settlements.

That upcoming Supreme Court matter, which also involves Google, stems from a lawsuit accusing the company of leaking search users' names by including their search queries in "referer headers" -- the information that is automatically transmitted to sites that users click on when they leave Google. Some queries, like people's searches for their own names, can offer clues to users' identities. (Google no longer transmits search queries when people click on links in the results.)

Google agreed to resolve that matter by donating $5.3 million to six nonprofits -- Carnegie Mellon University, World Privacy Forum, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Stanford Law, Harvard's Berkman Center and the AARP Foundation. The settlement also requires Google to pay more than $2.1 million to the attorneys who brought the lawsuit, with the remainder of the $8 million-plus settlement fund going to court costs.

Theodore Frank, an activist who founded the Center for Class Action Fairness, is challenging that settlement at the Supreme Court. Frank previously argued that the deal doesn't compensate Google users, and that some of the nonprofits had prior relationships with the company as well as with the lawyers representing the consumers.

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