Google Agrees To $13 Million Wi-Spy Settlement

Google has agreed to pay $13 million to settle a class-action privacy lawsuit stemming from the collection of data by its Street View cars, according to a new court filing.

The settlement agreement calls for the company to pay around $10 million to eight nonprofits: The Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, Center for Digital Democracy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Internet Policy Research Initiative, World Privacy Forum, Public Knowledge, Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and Consumer Reports.

The proposed deal includes terms requiring the company to destroy some data collected by its Street View cars, and to refrain from using Street View cars to collect or store personal data for at least five years. Class counsel who brought the lawsuit could receive around $3 million, under the agreement, which was made public Friday.

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“In light of the risks of continuing litigation -- which may not yield any recovery for plaintiffs and the proposed class members -- the settlement agreement is deserving of preliminary approval because it provides the immediate benefits of substantial ... donations tailored to serve and promote the interests of class members, and injunctive relief,” class counsel writes in court papers filed Friday. “This is an excellent recovery for the proposed class members and is, therefore, fair, adequate and reasonable.”

If accepted by U.S. Charles Breyer in San Francisco, the settlement will resolve a long-running battle stemming from revelations that Google's Street View cars collected a host of data -- including URLs, passwords and emails -- sent over unencrypted WiFi networks.

News about Google's data gathering sparked investigations into the company, 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.

Revelations about Google's data gathering also 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 maintained it didn't violate any laws. The company argued 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 can't decode data transmitted over Wi-Fi. Google unsuccessfully attempted to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Breyer is expected to consider the settlement at a September 6 hearing.

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