Privacy Watchdogs To Government: Probe Google A Little Harder

Now that the Federal Communications Commission has said Google didn’t do anything wrong while accidentally collecting data with its Street View cars (besides impeding the investigation), privacy watchdogs are pressing for further probes into the company.

The L.A. Times says Washington advocacy group the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, originally filed a complaint with the FCC because of Google’s data-collection practices, and they aren’t satisfied. They’ve sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric. H. Holder Jr.

“By the agency’s own admission, the investigation conducted was inadequate and did not address the applicability of federal wiretapping law to Google’s interception of emails, user names, passwords, browsing histories and other personal information,” EPIC’s Executive Director Marc Rotenberg wrote in the letter. “Given the inadequacy of the FCC’s investigation and the law enforcement responsibilities of the attorney general, EPIC urges you to investigate Google’s collection of personal Wi-Fi data from residential networks.”

In addition, Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachussetts, is urging Congress to get to the bottom of “this serious situation,” saying there are too man unanswered questions.

The FCC fined Google $25,000 for delaying their investigation, but also discharged them of any wrongdoing. And also? To Google, $25,000 is only worth about 68 seconds of profit to them, notes ProPublica. So you just read this post and they made $25,000.

Privacy watchdogs call for new Google probe [L.A. Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. headhot says:

    If you dont turn encryption on your Wi-Fi, its going to get snooped, its in the clear and every one can ‘hear’ it. As a network engineer, Google did nothing wrong.

    • chefboyardee says:

      Google is not a network engineer, I assume you’re trying to say that you are.

      That said, your argument is very, very flawed. If you leave your front door unlocked, can anyone come in? Yes. Should they, legally can they? No.

      Sure sure, airwaves vs physical property blah blah blah. Just because I leave my wifi open so my family can easily connect to it does not mean I’m inviting unwanted guests.

      • Marlin says:


        Google did not come in, they looked into your open WIFI. Kinda how i can look inside your house legally if you leave your front door or window open.

        • larissa_j says:

          Uh no. You can’t. Any woman who has had to deal with peeping Toms can tell you that. That’s a class 1 misdemeanor and it’s also creepy.

      • SavijMuhdrox says:

        uh.. where is it said it’s illegal for someone to walk into your home if the front door is open?

        it’s socially not proper and to some, rude.. but how is that illegal?

        i’m NOT a lawyer so i’d appreciate if someone could clear that up.

        • SavijMuhdrox says:

          aaahhh… Trespass to Land.. but i don’t think this would count for obtaining wireless info.. yet.

          • Straspey says:

            Not only is it considered trespassing – but in certain states – such as here in New York, where the crime commonly known as “breaking and entering” does not exist – the trespasser would be charged with burglary, or attempted burglary, at the very least.

        • Blueskylaw says:

          “uh.. where is it said it’s illegal for someone to walk into your home if the front door is open?”

          Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force

          The entry of a structure in a Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force (5b) situation is achieved by use of an unlocked door or window. The element of trespass to the structure is essential in this category, which includes thefts from open garages, open warehouses, open or unlocked dwellings, and open or unlocked common basement areas in apartment houses where entry is achieved by other than the tenant who has lawful access.

      • Malik says:

        All they did was capture the data that you were broadcasting publicly. If you wanted it to be private, you should not transmit it openly

      • Doubting thomas says:

        apples to oranges.
        Your wifi broadcasts, your house does not. A more apt comparison would be if you threw everything in your house out into the street would it be stealing if I took it.

    • Gman says:

      Ignorance does not give free reign to others to commit invasions of privacy.

      Yes Google is overall “good” and considered one of the safer organizations to keep personal information. But they still are made up of thousands of individuals. Chances are at least one of them has nefarious intentions.

      If you want your data with that person it should be of your own choice, not taken from you without your acceptance.

      • kc2idf says:

        As far as I know, the law doesn’t protect your privacy on any part 15* devices except for cordless phones. Even in the case of cordless phones, it is super-weak. I will stand corrected if anyone knows any different.

        Ignorance might not, by itself, be a valid invitation to an invasion of privacy, but this is ignorance of the law, and we all know that this is not an excuse.

        (*Part 15 of title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is the section of law that describes legal uses of unlicensed radio spectrum)

    • larissa_j says:

      Legally they did nothing wrong. Ethically is another matter.

    • larissa_j says:

      Yeah yeah… everyone knows that you need to have encryption but you’re also being incredibly short sighted here AND talking exactly like systems operations and forgetting ALL about development.

      Sometimes you HAVE to disable encryption in order to troubleshoot hardware/software or work with beta products. People who work in the industry would KNOW this and would not expect an absolute. Yes, you should enable encryption as soon as possible but your router might operate without for a few hours without it. During that time period, a company like Google should not exploit your network.

      That’s EVIL and unethical.

      • George4478 says:

        What steps do you take to notify anyone who might see your wi-fi signal during such a timeperiod?

        Since Google (or anyone who might potentially be near your home) needs to know not to do this at a certain time, I’m curious how you notify them that your wi-fi is not actually an unsecured signal, but really in a beta-test state and offlimits.

        I also think you lead a sheltered life if you think this is EVIL. Sets the bar for actual EVIL pretty low, imho.

  2. deathbecomesme says:

    “Probe a little harder” …Thats what she said

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Thank you for catching that. I totally missed it.

    • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

      Recently, a group of New York women were polled… and we all know how painful that can be.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    “privacy watchdogs are pressing for further probes into the company.”

    Wouldn’t that be an invasion of Google’s privacy?

  4. partyone says:

    Who probes the watchdogs

  5. Vox Republica says:

    Do people honestly think the federal government actually wants to maximize people’s electronic privacy? To you, I offer this hearty guffaw.

  6. 85% Real 15% Filler says:

    Federal Law allows for the intentional recording of phone calls or coversations as long as one of the parties involved in the conversation knows it is being recorded. Most states have the same law. A handful of states require that all parties involved in the conversation know that it is being recorded. On any of those levels, Google was not part of the conversation. Google did everything wrong.

    • LanMan04 says:

      If I sit on my front porch and scream into the phone as I talk to my girlfriend, is it wiretapping if you can hear what I’m saying as you walk by on the public sidewalk? Even if I’m unaware that you can hear me?

      wifi is BROADCAST into public space, and if you have the right kind of “ears”, you can hear it in public space. It is not encrypted, so there’s no real effort in “cracking” it or anything similar (well, setting a wifi receiver to promiscuous mode, but that’s not nefarious either)

      • 85% Real 15% Filler says:

        Hearing something isn’t the issue. Intentional recording is the issue. On top of that, they are using the information that they intentionally recorded. Encryption has nothing to do with it. Just like secretly recording a conversation, meeting, phone call if you are not involved with it and none of the parties know that you are doing it.

        • q`Tzal says:

          Secret recordings in public are a daily occurance; they’re called video cameras and our world is saturated with them for better or worse.
          Users of closed circuit cameras have no requirement to be certain every single person is aware that cameras are recording what goes on in public.
          Wi-fi access points inside private residences have no measure of legal assumption of privacy, encrypted or not, because the signals pass outside in to the public space as a matter of design and simple physics.

          The yelling argument is accurate but a home audio system is more so.
          If I open my windows, but on a DVD of pronography and crank the volume to 11 I might be playing it in my private space but its iterception in the public space is guaranteed. The Wi-fi is no different.

          If any fault exists it lies with buyers who have NO CLUE what they have bought and what it does.

  7. LanMan04 says:

    applicability of federal wiretapping law to Google’s interception of emails, user names, passwords, browsing histories and other personal information,”
    Wiretapping? Unencrypted wifi is like yelling into the street and saying it’s illegal to listen.

    It’s like broadcasting an FM radio station and declaring it’s illegal to listen to it.

    • larissa_j says:

      Yes, yes we all KNOW. But there are times when for whatever reason a user has to temporarily disable encryption to test a connection, test a new laptop or device, or software or configure something – whatever and during that time a company like Google should not take advantage.

      If we lived in a perfect world where all hardware/software and beta products worked seamlessly then your comment would be helpful and appropriate but it’s not and it shows an ignorance regarding the industry.

  8. j_gets says:

    What people with limited knowledge of the technology at hand don’t seem to understand is that an unencrypted WiFi signal beaming out of your house is analogous to having someone standing on your roof, shouting all of that data for everyone to hear.

    If you’d argue that some action needs to be taken to hear the broadcast, suppose I can only hear you shouting if my windows are rolled down as I drive by in my car. If I drive by with my windows down and hear you shouting ‘My password is Password123!’ am I wiretapping? I’d hope not.

    • larissa_j says:

      “‘My password is Password123!’ am I wiretapping? I’d hope not.”

      Seriously? No. You need tools to sniff networks so yes, you’re wiretapping.