Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) could end up owing millions of homeowners money. The search giant lost an appeal this week in the lawsuit filed against it in connection with its Street View mapping project.


Appeals court rules against Google

Eliza Gray of Time reports that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the suit filed against Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG). The company’s vehicles circled the U.S. between 2007 and 2010, collecting personal data from private Wi-Fi networks in homes, including passwords and other personal information. The vehicles were photographing homes for its Street View maps feature, which creates panoramic photos for Google Maps.

The court ruled that the information which is sent over residential Wi-Fi networks should be private and is protected as part of the federal law against wiretapping. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) had argued that signals from homes are basically radio communication, which would mean that the public can legally access them. However, the appeals court’s decision against Google sets an important precedent in terms of privacy boundaries within technology.

Of course Google could still attempt to go before the Supreme Court or push for another hearing from all the Ninth Circuit court judges, but both of those options would be difficult.

What might happen to Google

If Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) does let the case go to trial, lawyers will be able to see exactly what kind of information the search giant collected, what it did with that information, and who had responsibility for the collection of that data. The company will have to hand over the 600-gigabyte database of information collected from the project. Experts estimate that most emails consist of between 2,000 and 10,000 bytes of data, which means Google may have collected 60 million emails through its Street View project.

The company could have to pay damages to millions of U.S. residents to the tune of between $100 and $10,000 to each person, according to the wiretapping law. That could be a problem even for Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has $50 billion in cash lying around. This could end up being the largest wiretapping case in the history of the world.

If Google loses the case entirely, it will be up to the judge in the case to decide the best way to inform as many people as possible that the company owes them money.