Google Agrees to Pay $13 Million Settlement in Street View Privacy Case

The new Google logo is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Google has agreed to pay a $13 million settlement that could resolve a class-action lawsuit over the company’s collection of people’s private information through its Street View project.

The agreement, if approved by a judge, would resolve a 2010 suit over the Street View program’s privacy violations, ending nearly a decade of legal challenges related to the issue. Many expected the case to cost Google billions of dollars because plaintiffs alleged the data collection broke federal wiretapping laws -— but the agreement doesn’t include financial relief for class members.

Street View is a feature that lets users interact with panoramic images of locations around the world that launched in 2007. The legal action began when several people whose data was collected sued Google after it admitted the cars photographing neighborhoods for Street View had also gathered emails, passwords and other private information from wifi networks in more than 30 countries.

The company initially called the data collection “a mistake.” However, investigators found Google engineers built software and embedded it into Street View vehicles to intentionally intercept the data from 2007 to 2010, according to court documents.

In 2013, Google settled a case brought by 38 states over the same issue for $7 million. In that settlement, the company agreed to destroy the data collected through Street View and launch a campaign to teach people how to protect their information from wifi snooping. The company had previously agreed to halt the collection of network data by the vehicles.

This latest proposed settlement includes a similar agreement. Google would be required to destroy any remaining data collected via Street View, agree not to use Street View to collect data from wifi networks except with consent, and to create webpages and videos teaching people how to secure their wireless data.

It’s unclear why the new settlement includes deleting the data and halting the program, when Google was already required to do that under the 2013 agreement. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this aspect of the case, and the company declined to comment on the proposed settlement overall.

“It is very strange that six years after Google agreed to end this practice and made public service announcements, it’s once again agreeing to do what others had assumed they already had,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the nonprofit research firm Electronic Privacy Information Center, in an interview with CNN Business.

The agreement includes monetary relief for the 22 original plaintiffs, but not for additional class members. The remaining money will be distributed to eight organizations dedicated to data privacy and consumer protection.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys said the settlement is fair because ongoing litigation could result in no financial relief for the plaintiffs, and because of the settlement donation to organizations “tailored to serve and promote the interests of Class Members,” according to the court filing.

A notice to class members about the settlement notes that Google denies any wrongdoing.

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