FCC Report Says Google Knew It Was Collecting Data With Street View Cars

Google is all about showing the report the Federal Communications Commission wrote up detailing its probe into the company’s Street View cars collecting data from Wi-Fi networks. Which is great, but it seems its claim that it had no clue info was being gathered is kind of suspect.

ComputerWorld cites the report, which has plenty of redacted parts, showing that Google had an engineer who intentionally wrote code to glean the personal data, told other people what he was up to and handed out a document to the Street View crew showing his work of logging payload data. Yet Google has said in the past it had no clue this was happening.

The engineer has not been identified and invoked his Fifth Amendment right when talking to the FCC.

According to the FCC’s report:

As early as 2007 and 2008, therefore, Street View team members had wide access to Engineers Doe’s Wi-Fi data collection design document and code, which revealed his plan to collect payload data. One Google engineer reviewed the code line by line to remove syntax errors and bugs, and another modified the code. Five engineers pushed the code into Street View cars, and another drafted code to extract information from the Wi-Fi data those cars were collecting. Engineer Doe specifically told two engineers working on the project, including a senior manager, about collecting payload data. Nevertheless, managers of the Street View project and other Google employees who worked on Street View have uniformly asserted in declarations and interviews, that they did not learn the Street View cars were collecting payload data until April or May 2010.

Google says it didn’t give permission for any payload data gathering. Which makes it okay? Not buying it.

The FCC recently fined Google an entire $25,000 (basically a drop in the bucket if the bucket holds an ocean, in Google’s case) for impeding its investigation.

Google posts FCC report about Street View [Computer World]

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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    Google will claim ignorance of what’s going on its company, fire the aforementioned “rogue” employee after Google benefited from the information and re-iterate its Do No Evil mantra.

    Does this sound like the beginning of a rinse, lather, repeat scenario?

    • Alan says:

      Let’s remember that this is not something Google was caught doing. This was something they found out what they doing themselves and apologized for. If they wanted to, they could have kept this quite.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        There may be no evidence for it in this case, but companies tend to
        do the right thing right before they know they are about to get caught.

  2. Sound Money Girl says:

    Aside from the creepiness factor, what has Google done wrong? Anyone can collect data that is broadcast over unsecured wi-fi.

    • Poisson Process says:

      Even if that’s true, its still illegal to lie to the Feds. That’s how Martha Stewart and Al Capone got busted. They didn’t get in trouble for what they initially did wrong, they got in trouble for lying about it.

  3. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    They should make the engineer drink Ensure and listen to Barney!

  4. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    basically a drop in the bucket if the bucket holds an ocean

    What the double hell? I spent more time trying to figure this out than I did reading the rest of the article.

    • PlumeNoir - Thank you? No problem! says:

      Yeah…I thought it was just me. What an oddly worded analogy…

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      “basically two drops in a bucket it the bucket holds two oceans”.

      Better?

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      *snicker*

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Not that hard. How significant is a single drop of water in a bucket? Rather miniscule, right?

      Now imagine that bucket is big enough to hold an entire ocean. How insignificant is THAT drop in THAT bucket?

      It was an attempt to bring new life to a tired figure of speech.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        So…a drop in the ocean?

      • ycnhgm says:

        Well, not quite. Since the size of the drop stays the same and take this fact into consideration the ratio drop to bucket contents stays exactly the same, no matter if there’s an ocean in the bucket or not.

  5. Olivia Neutron-Bomb says:

    “Don’t Be Evil” has gone the way of “Fair and Balanced.”

    Neither were ever anything more than a dumb slogan.

  6. Juan.Guapo says:

    One engineer = the entire company.

    Sounds logical.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Legally, it could be. The quote suggests a senior official at Google knew of this. Management has the responsibility of monitoring their subordinates.

  7. Lyn Torden says:

    They came by here once. That’s me flipping the bird.

  8. krom says:

    Retarded upon retarded. If you don’t want people to pick up your radio transmissions, don’t run a radio transmitter. Not Google’s fault you’re stupid and didn’t realize that “wireless” means “radio”. Your *grandfather* knew that!

    Anyone complaining about this should be sent in for brain replacement, because the one they have is broken. And removed from the Interwebs.

    Next week, your favorite radio station sues you for listening to it!

    Brain. Dead.

    The only information Google collected, AFAIK, was SSID and MAC of your wireless router. Because of this, your Android phone can provide better location info without GPS just by turning on WiFi, even without using it, by recognizing the SSIDs and MACs of routers transmitting near you, and retrieving where the GCar was when it picked it up previously.

    (Of course, if that AP moves, as ours did when we did, Android may think you’re at your old place. Alas.)

    Being stupid should not be grounds for suing someone.

    • who? says:

      Nope. Google grabbed everything they could get. From paragraph 1 of the FCC document:

      “Between May 2007 and May 2010, as part of its Street View project, Google Inc. (Google or Company) collected data from Wi-Fi networks throughout the United States and around the world. The purpose of Google’s Wi-Fi data collection initiative was to capture information about Wi-Fi networks that the Company could use to help establish users’ locations and provide location-based services. But Goole also collected “payload” data–the content of Internet communications–that was not needed for its location database project. This payload data included e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet usage history, and other highly sensitive personal information.”

      Of course I agree that people should encrypt their wifi connections. But the fact that someone didn’t encrypt their connection doesn’t give google permission to slurp up any data that’s in the air just ‘cuz they can.

      • neilb says:

        Thanks for the info. That is what we all needed to see. They did one step beyond what was needed and they picked up personal information.
        That is plain stupid. I am in a business that deals with consumer data and I don’t want anything personal. I fear it. I delete it if it is sent to me on accident.
        Why the heck would they seek it out? That stuff is lawsuit material (obviously).
        This is the reason we all have to sit through hours of “Personally Identifiable Information” data-handling classes.
        I love Google but, dang, that is a stupid!
        I hope they make their engineers consider what they SHOULD collect, not what they CAN collect.

  9. mcgyver210 says:

    Google provides lots of FREE products so what if they collect WiFi info being broadcast freely & unsecured.

    If people wanted to they could secure their networks & turn off open broadcast I’m amazed everyday how many unsecured networks are out there still

  10. unpolloloco says:

    Management being given a report telling them that data was being collected doesn’t mean that they were aware of it (the managers probably just skimmed it and didn’t catch the red flag). Doesn’t mean there was a conspiracy to collect data. Just means there was a bit of a communication gap (pretty common in any organization!). That said, the existence of that report means that there may be some legal issues on Google’s part. Morally/ethically, I don’t see any real issues on management’s side (that engineer, on the other hand, should have known better…).

    • who? says:

      Nope. They grabbed everything they could get. From paragraph 1 of the FCC document:

      “Between May 2007 and May 2010, as part of its Street View project, Google Inc. (Google or Company) collected data from Wi-Fi networks throughout the United States and around the world. The purpose of Google’s Wi-Fi data collection initiative was to capture information about Wi-Fi networks that the Company could use to help establish users’ locations and provide location-based services. But Goole also collected “payload” data–the content of Internet communications–that was not needed for its location database project. This payload data included e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet usage history, and other highly sensitive personal information.”

  11. frodolives35 says:

    Sorry I just don’t see the street view cars coming to a standstill to monitor grandmas unsecured wifi connection. Oh look she skyping with her grandkids. Just because they could capture personnel info just how much did they get driving down the street.

  12. shthar says:

    Hey, just cuz I told a guy to do something and write me a report showing hat he did, soes not mean I READ the report.

    Your honr, I rest, my case, right here.