Google Wi-Fi Spying Report Released

By April 29, 2012

Image: FCC

Google has released the FCC report on what personal wireless network data the company has collected with its Street View cars, a fleet of specially modified vehicles that take panoramic photographs that appear at the most zoomed-in level of Google Maps.

The investigation centered around charges that the cars were collecting “payload data” – personal information being transmitted over wireless networks – which was not necessary for the location database project. Ultimately, they decided to end the investigation.

The authors wrote that “based on a careful review of the existing record and applicable law, the Bureau will not take enforcement action under Section 705(a) against [Google] for its collection of payload data,” citing lack of precedent and cooperation from key Google employees.

The report, which is heavily redacted, places the blame for the data collection on a single Google engineer, who has not been identified. That individual invoked the Fifth Amendment in order not to testify.

Following the investigation, the FCC levied a $25,000 fine against the company – the maximum allowed, though some criticized the agency for closing the inquiry prematurely.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, an online privacy advocacy center, has separately filed a public records request for a complete version of the report.

“For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the Bureau’s investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses,” reads the report. “In this Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, we find that Google apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents that the Commission required for its investigation.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Jessica Guynn notes that the report raises the question of whether Google managers and engineers were aware of or should have been aware of the data collection. The company’s position is that the practice was inadvertent.

Google claimed never to have “authorized payload data collection, and that the Street View project leaders did not want and had no intention of using payload data,” according to the report.

The FCC probe is not the only investigation Google has faced recently. The Federal Trade Commission has hired star litigator Beth Wilkinson to work, on a part time basis, on what could turn into an antitrust case against the company for manipulating search results to deemphasize the ranking of competitors’ projects.