By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated April 16, 2012.
The Federal Communications Commission fined Google $25,000 on Saturday for impeding its investigation of the company's collection of data through its Street View project. The agency also indicated it is closing its investigation.
Over a three-year period beginning May 2007, Google collected confidential "payload" data from open, non-password-protected Wi-Fi networks, as its Street View cars took photos on American streets for Google Maps.
When allegations first arose about the collection of payload data, the agency noted, Google denied it was doing so, but later acknowledged that the data had been "mistakenly" scooped up by its data collection software.
As the FCC began its official investigation into whether Google's conduct had violated provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC said, Google "deliberately impeded and delayed" its investigation by failing to respond to requests for information, adding that the company "willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders" to deliver documents and other information.
The fine of $25,000 is for noncompliance with FCC requests, but, in the same announcement, the agency said it will "not take enforcement action" for the collection of payload data, because there is "no clear precedent" for applying the Communications Act in this case, especially because the data was unencrypted.
It also noted that efforts to obtain more information about the data collection were blocked because the key Google engineer, who was unnamed, had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
A separate inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010 had resulted in Google's agreement to set up internal privacy controls and methods. These included the appointment of a new director of privacy with authority across both engineering and product management, enhanced core training for staff, a new information security awareness program, and new processes for internal compliance procedures.
Brin on Openness
Google has said that the collected data, which it still has, has not been and will not be used, and that, once regulators give their approval to do so, it will delete that information.
About 600 GB of payload data, in 30 countries, has been collected.
Other investigations, including ones in Europe and Canada, have found that the collected data included e-mails, IMs, chats, Web addresses and other information that could be considered confidential. Google has been fined or censured for the data collection in Canada, France and the Netherlands.
Perhaps coincidentally, Google co-founder Sergey Brin made news on Sunday, as he has expressed alarm that the principles of openness and access to information on which the Internet was founded are under their greatest threat ever.
He cited governments attempting to control their citizens' access to the Net, the crackdown on the unauthorized use of intellectual property by the entertainment industry, and "restrictive" platforms, such as those from Facebook or Apple, which control apps and other software used.