FCC Fines Google for Obstruction in Street View Scuffle

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ADOTAS – Over the weekend, the Federal Communications Commission censured Google for obstructing an investigation into whether the search behemoth had gathered and stored data from unencrypted wireless networks while researching Google Street View, and it fined Google $25,000, which the company may appeal.

Between 2008 and 2010, in addition to photographing every street possible from multiple angles, Google was collecting information about nearby wireless networks, in order to help improve local searches. But the Street View cars rolling through neighborhoods were also collecting information about the activities people were conducting online or on their mobiles as the vehicles passed. That’s not necessarily what Google had intended, but that’s what how the program used to collect the data was coded. The engineer who wrote the program invoked the Fifth Amendment during FCC proceedings, while Google said it hadn’t authorized the collection of personal data.  A statement from Google called the inclusion of that code “a mistake… but we believe we did nothing illegal.”

To be clear, the FCC’s decision doesn’t indicate Google did anything illegal, either. Reports out over the weekend say Google didn’t even look at the personal data while the Street View cars were collecting it. The search giant received a relative pittance of a fine for a lack of cooperation: It initially denied that it had collected any such data, then denied the level of detail the data went into. Meanwhile, while the company said the collection of personal data was unauthorized, the engineer who wrote the program said other Googlers knew that it had accessed personal data.

The FCC first opened this investigation into Google in October of 2010, on the same day the FTC wrapped up its own investigation. Several sources reported on the fine and contributed analysis, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is all the evidence we need that big brands are virtually untouchable by our current regulatory and legal systems. Why didn’t they just fine them $1 – that would be as meaningful as this pittance.

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