September 06, 2019

A California federal judge said Friday he would preliminarily approve a $13 million cy pres deal ending claims Google illegally gathered Wi-Fi network data with its Street View car fleet, saying the case addressed unexplored electronic privacy questions and promising a detailed opinion to explain his reasoning in case of an appeal.

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Judge Breyer said this case — regarding whether Google violated the Wiretap Act by allowing its Street View cars to collect data sent over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks as they cruised through the streets — has helped develop the jurisprudence surrounding internet privacy.

"We're now into a whole unexplored, but sensitive area, dealing with privacy in the cyber world," Judge Breyer said.

"I'd say 10 years ago it was: Who cares?" he added, but he said today it's clear that people care deeply about internet privacy questions.

"Individuals care, companies care, governments care. I think it's worthwhile," Judge Breyer said.

The cy pres settlement — one paid to charities instead of to class members — would end the putative class action and give about $10 million to eight groups with a history of addressing online consumer privacy issues. The rest would be dedicated to attorney fees, plaintiff service awards and other related expenses.

The settlement requires Google to destroy all the data it gathered, and to not gather any protected data from users with its Street View vehicles without notice and consent.

For five years following final approval, Google will also host web pages dedicated to teaching users about the "value" of encrypting their networks, along with instructions on how to do so.

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The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey L. Kodroff, John A. Macoretta and Mary Ann Giorno Geppert of Spector Roseman & Kodroff PC, Daniel A. Small of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Michael W. Sobol and Melissa Gardner of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP.

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