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Google tries to patent tech that snoops Wi-Fi networks

Wardriving patent app tells all

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Updated Google is attempting to patent the very same wardriving technology the search giant says it used by mistake to snoop on Wi-Fi users in more than 30 countries, attorneys said Wednesday.

A patent application published in January describes a method devised by Google for gathering and analyzing data sent via wireless access points. The application says the device "may be placed in a vehicle and data may be obtained continuously or at predetermined time increments" and that the speed of the vehicle "may be factored into the analysis," according to lawyers suing Google on behalf of people whose traffic may have been collected by the technology.

“Google was not entitled to receive the payload data it captured from plaintiffs and class members,” the attorneys wrote in an amended complaint filed Wednesday. “After Google received, or assisted in receiving the intercepted communications and data, it used the information for its own benefit or for the benefit of another not entitled thereto, in connected with one or more of Google's businesses, location based services, and/or as described in part in Google's United States Patent Application.”

Google disclosed the data collection last month, contradicting previous assurances that its Street View cars catalogued SSID and MAC addresses of wireless access points but didn't examine the actual payloads that traveled between them and users connected to them. The company said engineers had mistakenly equipped the cars with experimental software that for three years gathered tiny fragments of data as they traveled over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

The amended complaint, one of a handful of lawsuits filed in response to Google's disclosure, appears aimed at countering those claims by arguing the software was well known by company managers considered important enough for them to seek patent protection. The complaint seeks damages of $100,000 for each individual whose data was sniffed.

Of course, Google is a big company, so it's entirely conceivable that patent attorneys in the legal department didn't adequately communicate with engineers deploying Street View cars. But it's going to be harder for the company to claim the Wi-Fi sniffing was the obscure toiling of a handful of employees. ®

Update

A Google spokesman issued the following statement: "The patent in question is entirely unrelated to the software code used to collect WiFi information with Street View cars."

He was unable to say what he meant by "entirely unrelated" or if the patent, should it be granted, would cover wardriving technology or methods used in the Street View cars.

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