Google, which control the world’s search engine market with a 65-70 percent share, has been accused of wiretapping during their Google Street View mapping project. The United States Supreme Court is allowing a case against the search giant to proceed.
The lawsuit accuses Google of exploiting and misappropriating data and breaking federal laws by secretly collecting people’s email, passwords and other personal information from unencrypted household computer networks during the Street View project, which started in 2007.
Google’s representatives have defended themselves, saying that wiretapping did not occur; because Google was unsuccessful in their appeal, the case will go forward in the lower court. The plaintiffs in the case maintain that protecting “Americans’ homes and private correspondence from intrusion for commercial gain” is the ultimate goal, according to their lawyer, Elizabeth J. Cabraser.
This isn’t the first time the court has ruled in favor of consumer privacy. Earlier this month, the court ruled in a 9-0 decision that police conducting cellphone searches must obtain a warrant first.
But Google maintains that, while Street View was made to chart the inhabited world, the cars collecting wireless data during their treks were the result of an unauthorized project by one of their engineers.
The resulting investigation, by 38 state attorneys general, issued a modest fine of $7 million for Google, which promised to more aggressively monitor employees. However, Google contended that people transmitting data in their homes over WiFi was a form of radio communication, which isn’t governed by U.S. wiretapping laws. Many do not accept this argument and ask for greater transparency from the search giant.
The appeals court rejected that argument, much like the Supreme Court recently rejected the idea that cellphones are the same as searching through a wallet. Just as sending an email or viewing a bank statement over WiFi don’t count as a radio communication, the thousands of photographs and bank statements a person may have in his or her phone are not the same as a wallet.
While Google does not consider the lawsuit a victory, privacy advocates do. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which supported the case’s plaintiffs, called the decision “a significant victory for Internet users” that protects private residential networks.