Google first admitted that it collected data from private WiFi networks while taking photos for its “Street View” mapping feature in 2010. At the time it called the data collection a mistake and promised to segregate the date and erase it promptly. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced late Friday that it was fining Google $25,000 for for impeding the agency’s investigation into the Web search leader’s data collection for its Street View project. The fine was solely for Google’s failures to respond to the agency’s inquiries.
“Google refused to identify any employees or produce any e-mails. The company could not supply compliant declarations without identifying employees it preferred not to identify,” according to the FCC order dated April 13. It added: “Google apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents that the Commission required for its investigation.” The FCC further stated that, “”Misconduct of this nature threatens to compromise the commission’s ability to effectively investigate possible violations of the Communications Act and the commission’s rules.”
The FCC however left the investigation unresolved because it still has “significant factual questions” about the Street View project that haven’t been answered. The agency had subpoenaed the Google engineer who wrote the software code that the company used to collect and store private data including passwords, Internet usage history and other sensitive personal data that was not needed for its location database project. However, the engineer, who is not named in the report, declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination. When the commission asked Google to identify those responsible for the program, Google “unilaterally determined that to do so would ‘serve no useful purpose,’ ” according to the F.C.C. report.
Also, in its initial response to the FCC’s inquiry, Google provided just five documents, including a copy of its software code that was so poorly documented that the FCC said it was “impossible to know where the redactions occurred.”
In a statement, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said it disagrees with the FCC’s characterization of its cooperation with the investigation and will be filing a response. A Google spokeswoman said Saturday that “we worked in good faith to answer the F.C.C.’s questions throughout the inquiry, and we’re pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law.”
The private data in question has still not been deleted as Google was waiting to hear the verdict from the FCC before doing so.