FCC fines Google over Street View, investigation dropped

By Lee Kaelin on April 16, 2012, 8:55 AM

The US Federal Communications Commission has fined internet search giant Google $25,000 for deliberately impeding the investigation into the collection of wireless network data for their Google Street View project, according to the New York Times.

The FCC, fined the company late on Friday saying it was imposed due to Google collecting personal information without prior consent, and for deliberately not co-operating with their subsequent investigations into the matter, which has now been dropped by the Commission.

Essentially, the case has been left unresolved after the Google engineer responsible for the project invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, which protects a person's right to silence when accused by the government of a crime. Because he refused to testify, on the notion that he could self-incriminate himself the FCC decided there was "no clear precedent" for applying existing laws regarding radio-based interception and Wi-Fi communications that were involved with the Street View case.

"Google refused to identify any employees or produce any emails. The company could not supply compliant declarations without identifying employees it preferred not to identify," said an FCC order dated April 13. "For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the [Enforcement] Bureau's investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses."

Google's Street View project collected the data between 2007 and 2010, which was intended to allow users of the service to see street level images when viewing a map. It has, however, hit repeated controversy after it was revealed that Google was in fact scanning wireless networks at the same time their specially equipped camera vehicles were capturing the images required for the service.

Some of the content collected from unprotected Wi-Fi networks is said to include the location, name and available content which in some cases even included entire emails as well as passwords. The search giant has since apologized for this, and insists it was the mistake of an unnamed employee introducing "rogue" code to the systems used in the camera-equipped cars for the Street View project.

A spokesperson for Google responded to the report with the following statement. "We worked in good faith to answer the FCC's questions throughout the inquiry, and we're pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law."

User Comments: 4

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Guest said:

It was always about wifi access points and never about streetview, which has been the convenient cover story for this farce for years. google are simply lying - the geo IP data is what they were after from day one - blaming rogue employees is disgusting and shows this company up for what it really is - an unscrupulous ad company that sell your data to the highest bidder.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

You two guest do not know that for a fact and need to quit spreading what could or could not be the truth. If you have proof otherwise, please present it to the authorities in this case so the story above can be updated to match your accusations.


I hate Google with a passion but that doesn't mean I am going to slander their name at every turn.

Guest said:

Read The Register's article from two years ago on this: [link]

Most notably:

"A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic Wi-Fi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software --- although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data."

Streetview was primarily all about sniffing on wifi APs for geolocation purposes, the controversy here is about whether google intentionally picked up "payloads" from unprotected wifi LANs.

Guest said:

To be clear, that's someone driving past in a car, on the pretext of photographing the street, running software that automatically logs the SSID and Mac address of your AP, while grabbing any other information they can, and logging it's physical coordinates on the globe.

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