Between May 2007 and 2010, Google gobbled up enormous amounts of Wi-Fi data, when it actually set out to capture street-view images. This has been the hottest case of privacy breach in the last decade. For a company that believes in “don’t be evil”, Google made a terrible mistake in doing this. The mishap was discovered by European data-protection authorities. Initially, Google claimed that capturing Wi-Fi data would let it improve location-based services. When under some more pressure, Google jumped in with a clarification, saying it collected only fragments of data. Though finally, in 2010, Google acknowledged that it collected entire payloads from Wi-Fi networks with all kinds of personal data (emails, passwords, internet usage data and alike).
The case has been under investigation, and recently, Google has released an FCC report, where it holds a rogue engineer liable for capturing payload off Wi-Fi networks. The engineer in question wrote a code to capture Wi-Fi data and put it into the Street View code. However, the engineer was not available for talks as he invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to comment.
The FCC report also talks of other people at Google who were aware of the intentions of this engineer. The engineer drafted a proposal of his work and presented it to the Street View team in October 2006. Now, managers of the Street View team claim that they never read the document presented to them by the engineer! To add to the confusion, a second engineer who did a peer code review for our rogue engineer’s Street View code found no mechanism to capture Wi Fi data.
Nonetheless, Google has come out of this investigation clean. The FCC declared that Google did not capture Wi Fi data illegally, but fined Google for $25,000 for stalling the investigation.
After thoroughly reviewing the existing record in this investigation and applicable law, the Bureau has decided not to take enforcement action against Google for violation of Section 705(a). There is no Commission precedent addressing the application of Section 705(a) in connection with Wi-Fi communications.
Read the full report on the FCC investigation.
(Via: LA Times)