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article imageGoogle's Street View car WiFi snooping was not an accident

By Anne Sewell     May 1, 2012 in Internet
A government report shows that Google's Street View cars were collecting emails and other data from WiFi users all over the world. Google leaders were informed about this, but the company insists it was 'inadvertent'.
The BBC reports that a recent report filed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shows that during 2007-2010, the web giant was collecting emails and other sensitive personal information (including passwords) using its Street View cars and that this was neither a mistake, nor the work of an unauthorized engineer.
The report further states that the supervisors of the Street View program were aware that their vehicles were going further than just photographing streetscapes in the world.
The FCC report states that Google's engineer, running the data-collecting software, voluntarily started a project to gather the personal information and web searches of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The anonymous engineer, referred to as Engineer Doe, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to speak to the FCC.
On Saturday, Google released its own version of this report (with employees' named redacted). The earlier version provided by the FCC apparently had whole sections of text blacked out.
Google stated that it wanted a more transparent version of the report to be shown to the public. They say that this is evidence that any wrongdoing on their part was purely inadvertent. It seems the company wishes to avoid speculation over what might have been withheld from the initial release of the report and therefore limit any damage.
The document prepared by Engineer Doe had clearly shown his intention to collect payload data as the Google cars drove the streets, as well as taking panoramic snapshots
This private data would then “be analyzed offline for use in other initiatives,” like researching how well Google’s other services are used, the document said.
The document did state that privacy consideration comes to mind. The document states, “A typical concern might be that we are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they were doing.”
Apparently Engineer Doe concluded that no harm would be done through Google's data harvesters as they would not remain in the vicinity of any particular WiFi user for “an extended period of time.” However he did add the following “to do” item: “Discuss privacy considerations with Product Counsel.”
According to the FCC report, “That never occurred.”
Engineer Doe apparently also “specifically told two engineers working on the project, including a senior manager, about collecting payload data.” And it seems that at least seven Street View engineers had "wide access" to this plan to collect payload data back in 2007.
Around 200 gigabytes of payload data was collected across the U.S. between January 2008 and April 2010 by Engineer Doe's code. A similar amount of private data was also collected across the world, which made Google liable for investigation by respective authorities.
The FCC report also quotes a number of other persons involved in the project as "failing to recall knowing that collecting of payload data was happening at the time." These employees include an engineer whose job was to review Engineer Doe's code line by line for bugs and also a senior manager who had said he pre-approved the document before it was written.
The result of the investigation was that the FCC has fined Google $25,000 for obstruction of its investigation, which includes an email, openly discussing the engineer's review of payload data with a senior manage on the project.
While it was ruled that since the payload data collected was not encrypted, this act does not violate U.S. wiretapping law. However, the report said that it has “significant factual questions” about why this ever occurred.
Google has denied impeding the investigation and has blamed the FCC for any delays that occurred. They say they now want to "put the matter behind us".
Google stated: "We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals. While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC's conclusion that we did not break the law."
More about Google, Streetcar, Snooping, Email, Wifi
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