Google has admitted that it sniffed basic wireless network information -- including the network and router identifiers -- to map those networks, which would then be used by mobile devices such as smartphones to pinpoint their locations in Google's mapping services. Google has claimed, however, that the code which grabbed data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks was added to the Street View vehicles data sniffers by mistake.
But the plaintiffs' lawyers said Google's patent application showed that the company's Wi-Fi locating technology had more in mind than just basic information.
"As disclosed in the '776 Application, the more types and greater the quantity of Wi-Fi data obtained, decoded, and analyzed by Google from any particular user, the higher its 'confidence level' in the calculated location of that user's wireless AP," the changed lawsuit stated. "Collection, decoding, and analysis of a user's payload data would, therefore, serve to increase the accuracy, value, usability, and marketability of Google's new method."
"Payload data" is the term given to the information transmitted over wireless networks, including the data that Google said it unintentionally snatched from the air as its Street View cars and trucks drove by homes and businesses.
"Google has employed one or more of the methods disclosed in the '776 Application to collect, decode, analyze, store, and make beneficial use of wireless data (including payload data) it collected from plaintiffs and class members," the lawsuit alleged.
The advocacy group Privacy International has had similar thoughts. In a letter last month to European Union privacy commissioners, the group said, "We are deeply unsettled by Google's assertion that this situation was caused by a mere 'mistake' brought about by accidental use of inappropriate code developed for sniffing the content of Wi-Fi networks. This explanation to us seems entirely implausible."
As part of the amended complaint, the plaintiffs' lawyers added another charge to the three original, alleging that Google violated Title 47 of the U.S. Code . They also asked that Google be forced to pay up to $100,000 to each person whose data it obtained.
Google did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Company lawyers have not yet responded to the class-action lawsuit with a court filing of their own.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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