Privacy SOS

Google says anything flowing across open WiFi is fair game

Google made news today when the internet advertising giant announced it would pay $3.2 billion cash for the acquisition of a company called Nest, which manufacturers “sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, self-learning, programmable thermostats and smoke detectors.” Like AT&T, Google appears dissatisfied with controlling millions of people's communications and internet experience; now these companies want access to the inside of our homes. This development should give us all pause, particularly when considered within the context of another recent—if much lesser noticed—Google announcement.

Courthouse News describes the case and Google’s position, laid out in late December 2013 in a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit against the internet giant:

After launching Street View in 2007, Google learned that the cars it had travel the world to take photographs had inadvertently collected some 600 gigabytes of private data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries.

The collected data included "personal emails, usernames, passwords, videos, and documents" before Google purportedly corrected the issue.

Lead plaintiff Benjamin Joffe and others say Google violated various points of the federal Wiretap Act, which prohibits the interception of "wire, oral, or electronic communication," except in a few instances, while collecting data for Street View between 2007 and 2010.
The Wiretap Act provides an exemption for "electronic communication made through an electronic communication system" that is "readily accessible to the general public." Unscrambled radio and television broadcasts fall under this exemption.
In its motion to dismiss the proposed class action, Google had argued that all data transmitted over any Wi-Fi network is an electronic "radio communication," and thus exempt, just as any other radio broadcast, from the prohibition on interception of the same. It supported this argument by defining radio communication as "any information transmitted using radio wave." Google also justified the interception of unencrypted WiFi networks because they are "readily accessible to the general public.”

In short: Google argues that it has the right to collect your most sensitive data, as long as it flows across an open WiFi network.

Now do you want to let this company inside your home?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.