We take for granted how the world of navigation has changed in the last twenty years. Growing up, we would unfold enormous and unwieldy maps and attempt to plot the best way to travel around new cities. Then, with the arrival of new technology, travelers then turned to MapQuest and printed their specific directions. In fact, in the early 2000’s, I myself used eleven printed pages of MapQuest instructions to navigate across this great country of ours. However, somewhere along the way, the printed pages also sank into the depths of history. We now use apps on our smart phones to provide turn by turn directions; they update themselves in real time and provide a plethora of related information, like Google Street View. In 2013, Google Street View cars had covered more than 3,000 cities and 6 million miles since the project began in 2007, reported CNN. However, that level of technology and accessibility apparently comes with a price.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Google’s challenge to a lawsuit which alleged that the Internet behemoth’s Street View Cars spied on individuals by collecting personal information from private Wi-Fi networks. The information accessed included emails, passwords, web histories, and text messages. Google does not deny that such invasions into privacy occurred. In fact, in 2010, Sergey Brin admitted that “[Google] screwed up” and that he “would not make any excuses about it.” Google has since blamed a rogue engineer and announced that the information was stolen “mistakenly.” In 2011, Google paid $7 million dollars and agreed to destroy the data to settle a case brought by 38 states for violating federal wiretapping laws. The settlement did not include private actions. Recently a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that Google had indeed violated the U.S. Wiretap Act. Apparently, Google then sought refuge in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Wi-Fi networks fell within the radio signal exception to the Wiretap Act. On June 30, 2014, without explanation, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
It remains to be seen whether Plaintiffs’ class action suit will be granted certification or whether Google can ultimately prevail on its theory that Wi-Fi networks are radio communications, which are not encompassed under the U.S. Wiretap Act. However, it does appear that Google may get an opportunity to view the inside of a couple more courtrooms.