Google Street View Litigation Mania–Seven Class Action Lawsuits and Counting

By Eric Goldman

It appears that virtually the entire plaintiff’s bar saw Google’s blog post that it captured wi-fi payload data as part of its data collection for Google Street View. At least 7 class action lawsuits have been filed:

* Berlage v. Google (N.D. Cal. filed May 20)

* Carter v. Google (E.D. Pa. filed June 2)

* Colman v. Google (D.C. D.C. filed May 26)

* Galaxy Internet v. Google (D. Mass. filed May 25). I’m not sure about standing in this case because Galaxy Internet is an Internet access provider complaining that Google snooped on its customers’ traffic.

* Keyes v. Google (D.C. D.C. filed May 28)

* Redstone v. Google (S.D. Ill. filed May 28, 2010)

* Van Valin v. Google (D. Ore. filed May 17). This is the first lawsuit filed, and it has already reached a ruling requiring Google to fork over the collected data.

Undoubtedly, all of these lawsuits (and any more still coming) will be consolidated into a single action. Let the jockeying for lead counsel position begin!

Looking at the group of complaints as a whole, I’m impressed with all of this previously undisclosed expertise with the ECPA, a notoriously tricky statute that I rank as one of the most indecipherable statutes of all time. With all of these newly identified ECPA experts, perhaps this will contribute to the birth of a new ECPA plaintiffs’ bar?

It’s remarkable that these lawyers were able to conclude to their satisfaction that their named plaintiffs in fact had their payload data captured in the process–presumably by confirming that payload data was actually being transmitted at the precise time the cars drove by. I’m not sure how I would research this issue sufficient to satisfy my Rule 11 obligation, but these attorneys surely didn’t just assume Google captured their clients’ payload data…did they?

Finally, it will be interesting to see how these cases will be affected by the countervailing legal trends requiring privacy breach victims to show some actual harm from the breach (see, e.g., Ruiz v. Gap). I’m not sure this showing will be required for the ECPA claims, but it could wreak havoc with the ancillary claims.