April 18, 2012
Google Has To Answer More Uncomfortable Questions
On its surface, the idea of Google Street View seemed like a good one. Users could see their directions rather than read them from a list. However, the methods used to capture this data are inciting questions once more from privacy watchdogs and federal agencies, questions Google isn´t too keen on answering.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has censured Google for obstructing an inquiry into the Street View project. As the specially equipped and Google-branded cars drove through residential neighborhoods, they quietly collected data and internet communications from unsecured wireless networks.Originally intended to simply gather location data from the wireless networks to improve their mapping service, the program written by the lead engineer, worked a little too well and gathered private information such as internet activity and emails.
The investigation was brought to a frustrating halt, however, when the Google engineer in charge of the project suspiciously cited his fifth amendment, declining to talk.
For their part, Google is saying the gathering of the data was unauthorized. The engineer in question, however, insists others in the company were well aware of the data collection.
Now, Google has been fined $25,000 for obstruction of justice. The FCC and Google are working out what details can be revealed in the final report.
However, not everyone feels the FCC has done a sufficient job in making Google admit their faults and apologize for their wrongs.
Privacy watchdogs are now urging the attorney general to take of the matter, frustrated with the way the FCC handled the case.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed the original complaint with the FCC about Google´s data-collection practices. On Monday, they sent another letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr, saying the FCC´s investigation was insufficient. According to the Chicago Tribune, the letter states, “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.”
Representative Edward J. Markey, (Democrat from Massachusetts) senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has officially called Congress to take a look into Google´s case, asking them “to get to the bottom of this serious situation.”
“The circumstances surrounding Google´s surreptitious siphoning of personal information leave many unanswered questions,” he said Monday.
When the FCC announced their fine of Google last week, they also announced they did not uncover any evidence to show Google had violated any federal rules. According to the FCC, the probe had run into two obstacles: There is no precedent to apply FCC law to networks that are unprotected, and the probe had not uncovered enough evidence of Google´s wrong doing.
In stark contrast to the FCC probe are investigations carried out by European data protection agencies. Most of these investigations have already ended with Google willingly participating in the probes.
According to the New York Times, some countries, like Ireland, simply asked Google to destroy the data collected in 2010. When Google said they had deleted the data, no penalties were levied.
With US investigations still underway, Google´s response to the probe will be highly scrutinized in the coming months as they have to answer questions about what they are doing with the data they´ve illegally collected.