PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A federal class action accuses Google of violating privacy by running a fleet of cars that snoop into Wi-Fi streams at businesses and private homes while gathering information for Google Street View. In a related case, a German regulator on Tuesday threatened to sue Google unless it turned over a hard drive that could reveal what sort of information the company had collected.
In Portland, lead plaintiff Vicki Van Valin claims Google operates vehicles mounted with “wireless sniffers” that decode Wi-Fi data. She claims Google captured and decoded her Social Security number, banking information, medical records and other personal information, then stored the data on servers where “hundreds if not thousands” of Google employees could see it.
Google uses a “fleet of specially adapted vehicles,” and uses tricycles and snowmobiles to map areas not accessible by full-sized cars, according to the complaint.
Each vehicle is mounted with nine cameras which together record a 360-degree view. The cameras have been the subject of previous lawsuits accusing Google of privacy invasion.
Van Valin says the vehicles also have “3G/GSM/WiFi” antennas to scan open Internet connections. She says Google uses “wireless sniffers” to “secretly capture” information flowing over each wireless network the vehicle passes.
The information must be decoded before it is understandable, Van Valin says, so Google stores the data on its servers before decoding it, making it accessible to “hundreds if not thousands of Google employees.”
Van Valin says the fact that it is unreadable in its raw form, and must be decoded to be read, makes it “understood to be private, protected information by users and operators of home-based WiFi systems.”
Van Valin, who works from home, says she used her open wireless connection “to transmit and receive personal and private data, including but not limited to personal emails, personal Internet research and viewing, work-related documents, work-related Internet research and viewing, credit card information, banking information, personal identification information such as Social Security numbers, date of birth, medical information and telephone calls made using a voice over Internet (VOIP) protocol.”
Van Valin demands punitive damages for privacy invasion and violations of computer laws, and an injunction stopping Google from intercepting any more information.
She is represented by Rick Klingbeil and Brooks Cooper.
In Germany on Tuesday, a regulator for the city-state of Hamburg gave Google until May 26 to hand over a hard drive containing information it collected and stored in Germany.