Federal investigators said the Internet giant spent nine months throwing roadblocks into their investigation into Google’s collection of private WiFi information.
Internet giant that made $3.4 billion on revenues of $10.65 billion during the
first three months of 2012, was fined $25,000 by federal regulators for
intentionally impeding an investigation into the companys collecting of
personal data from WiFi while conducting its Street View project.
In a 25-page
finding issued April 13, officials with the Federal Communications
Commission found that Google deliberately impeded and delayed the FCCs
investigation by refusing to provide information and documents requested as
part of the investigation. In addition, because an unnamed Google engineer who
created the software that collected the WiFi data declined to testify at a
depositioninvoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incriminationas he
was subpoenaed to, the FCC said it didnt have the necessary information to
decide whether Google had violated any laws.
through 2010, Googles vehicles traveled through dozens of countries collecting
data as part of its Street View project, which gives users of Google Maps and
Google Earth the ability to see street-level images of locations. As part of
that project, the cars also collected WiFi data to gain information that Google
could use to develop location-based services.
the same time, the software was collecting what the FCC called payload
datasensitive and private consumer and business information such as Internet
messages, emails, texts, passwords and Internet use history. Google officials
in early 2010 initially denied that such information was collected, then said
that some samples of data had been inadvertently collected. It wasnt until October
2010 that executives admitted that such information had been collected in more
than 30 countries over the three years, and included whole emails, passwords
and Web browsing information.
officials said the collecting of the sensitive data was inadvertent, that it
never used the collected information and that the information had been deleted.
It was after
this that the FCCs Enforcement Bureau began investigating whether Google had
violated any commission rules. Around the same time, the Federal Trade
Commission, which began its own investigation in the summer of 2010, decided in
October 2010 not to take any action. Some other countriesincluding Canada,
France and the Netherlandshave ruled that Googles data collection violated
their privacy laws, and state attorney generals in dozens of U.S. states are
still conducting their own investigations.
in their filing said that over nine months, Google executives continuously
failed to supply the information and documentsincluding internal emailsthat
were requested, or the identities of many of the Google employees involved in
the data-collection work, resulting in the $25,000 fine.
statement, Google officials said they disagreed with the FCCs characterization
of their cooperation.
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 Google officials said.
to file a response with the commission.
advocacy groups railed against the $25,000 and the FCCs decision to issue a
heavily redacted finding. John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project at the
Consumer Watchdog group, said he was pleased the FCC derided Google for its
blatantly obstructionist violations, but $25,000 is chump change to an Internet
giant like Google. By willfully violating the Commissions orders, Google has
managed to continue to hide the truth about Wi-Spy. Google wants everyone
elses information to be accessible, but in a demonstration of remarkable
hypocrisy, stonewalls and keeps everything about itself secret.
said, Googles claim that its intrusive behavior was by mistake stretches
all credulity. In fact, Google has demonstrated a history of pushing the
envelope and then apologizing when its overreach is discovered. Willfully
obstructing a federal investigation shows Google has something to hide. Given
its recent record of privacy abuses, there is absolutely no reason to trust anything
the Internet giant claims about its data-collection policies.