Google releases full FCC report on Street View data

Steven Loeb · April 29, 2012 · Short URL:

Engineer responsible told others about data mining; managers say they did not read design document

Updated to reflect comments from Google

Two weeks ago, the FCC released a report outlining the conclusions of their investigation into Google collecting “payload” data, which includes the private e-mails, passwords and text messages of wireless home networks in neighborhoods where Google was collecting data for its Street View feature on GoogleMaps.

Google admitted that the data collection happened and blamed the incident on a single engineer, called Engineer Doe in the document. Google had declared the data collection “a mistake.”

Many details about how the data came to be collected were redacted from the FCC file released to the public.

Now Google has released the file with nearly no redactions, except for names involved with the inquiry.

"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. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us," a Google spokesperson told VatorNews.

The newly released sections of the report shed some light on how the data was collected, and whether or not Google knew about it while it was happening.

New information

The FCC report now says, “the data collection resulted from a deliberate software-design decision by one of the Google employees working on the Street View project.”

Engineer Doe “was not a full-time member of the Street View project team” and developed the software to collect payload data that he “thought might prove useful for other Google services.”

Google admitted to the FCC that the express purpose of the software was to extract payload information.

“In response to the LOI, Google made clear for the first time that Engineer Doe's software was deliberately written to capture payload data.”

The report says that Engineer Does considered privacy concerns but concluded that, because the Street View cars would not be "in proximity to any given user for an extended period of time” and none of the data gathered would be presented to users of Google services in raw form, it would not be a problem. he still intended to go over these privacy concerns with Product Counsel, but never did.

The most intriguing new information available concerns which Google employees, if anyone, knew that the data was being uploaded.

Despite the entire Street View team having been sent an e-mail in October 2006 containing a copy of a document detailing Engineer Doe’s work on Street View, and the fact that Engineer Doe told his colleagues on at least two occasions that the Street View cars were collecting private payload data, those working on the Street View project told the FCC that they did not know that payload data was being collected.

“In interviews and declarations, managers of the Street View project and other Google employees who worked on the project told the Bureau that they did not read Engineer Doe's design document. A senior manager of Street View said he ‘pre-approved’ the design document before it was written. One engineer remembered the design document but did not recall any reference to the collection of payload data.”

Google employees also told the FCC that any engineer could modify the code on the Street View project without approval from project managers.

FCC's conclusion

The FCC eventually found that Google had not done anything illegal since “Google collected payload data only from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, not from encrypted ones.”

Still, the FCC fined Google $25,000 for obstructing their investigation.

“We find that Google is apparently liable for a forfeiture of $25,000 based on the Company’s apparent failure to timely (1) provide compliant declarations verifying the completeness and accuracy of its LOI responses for a period of almost nine months, (2) identify Google employees with knowledge of relevant facts, and (3) search for and produce any emails.”

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