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17 Apr 2012 07:50
Google has been fined $25 000 for impeding a US investigation into its collection of wireless network data for its Street View project, which allows users to see street level images when they map a location.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed the fine late on Friday, saying Google had collected personal information without permission and had then deliberately not cooperated with the FCC’s investigation.
The company collected the data between 2007 and 2010, when a car driving around various locations in the US and, later, Europe, took photos of locations from public places—but also collected information from unprotected wifi networks, including the location, name and in some cases the content—including emails.
The FCC’s investigation was left unresolved, according to the New York Times, because one key participant—the Google engineer in charge of the project—cited Fifth Amendment rights and declined to talk to it. The US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protects the right to silence of someone accused by the government of a crime.
“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.
Google said at the time that the collection of data from the networks was an error and suggested it was down to an error by those in charge of the information collection. But according to the New York Times, the engineer says that others further up at Google must have known of what was happening.
The discovery of the data collection caused a storm when it was revealed in 2010. European data protection agencies reacted in different ways, with the Irish and UK commissioners suggesting Google should destroy the data without penalty, while in Germany they said they would need to examine it to determine whether any crime had been committed.
In the US, the FCC tried to make a similar determination, as did the consumer-focused Federal Trade Commission. The FTC closed its inquiry, while the FCC considered whether there had been a breach of the US Communications Act’s clauses on wiretapping.
In the end it determined that it had not, because there was no precedent for applying it to wifi communications.
Google said in a statement that it had turned over information to the agency and challenged the finding that it was uncooperative. “As the FCC notes in their report, we provided all the materials the regulators felt they needed to conclude their investigation and we were not found to have violated any laws,” the company said in a statement. “We disagree with the FCC’s characterisation of our cooperation in their investigation and will be filing a response.”
Between May 2007 and May 2010, Google collected data from wifi networks throughout the US and across the world as part of its Street View project, which gives users of Google Map and Google Earth the ability to view street-level images of structures and land adjacent to roads and highways.
But Google also collected passwords, internet usage history and other sensitive personal data that was not needed for its location database project, the FCC said.
Google publicly acknowledged in May 2010 that it had collected the so-called “payload data”.—
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