Google Hit With a Wi-Fi Class Action Lawsuit, Likely Road to Nowhere

by Fred Abramson on May 20, 2010 · 1 comment

Google has previously admitted that it accidentally collected some open WiFi data. It is not exactly clear what Google was using the data for. If data is unencrypted, anyone using a WiFi network can see data used by others on that same access point. Is this legal? We will soon find out.

The  first class action against Google’s so-called data collecting has been filed by three attorneys from Oregon. The complaint alleges that the company violated Washington and Oregon privacy laws as well as the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The plaintiffs are seeking up to $10,000 per violation suffered by each class member plus other damages. See the complaint below.

Van Valin v Google Complaint

Reading the complaint, I have no idea why the plaintiffs believe that their data was collected by Google.  Granted, the plaintiff’s will have the opportunity during discovery to find out why and how their data was collected.  At this stage, it looks to me that the lawyers went fishing for two plaintiffs and found them.

It is unclear what type of damages the plaintiffs can hope to receive.  According to the Recorder,

federal law may not offer the damages that the plaintiffs are seeking. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act offers a safe harbor for some breaches if the collected information is publicly accessible, said Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner I. Neel Chatterjee. Companies have typically been protected too if they can prove they collected the data unintentionally.

One of the plaintiffs admits that her data was not encrypted. Where are the damages there?

As a publicity stunt, the lawyers may win.  However,  the case is premised on a weak legal basis and will likely be dismissed.

If you have any questions about privacy law in New York, contact me at the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666.

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