Google Knew About Street View Wi-Fi Spying Software After All
Nearly two weeks after the Federal Communications Commission released a heavily redacted report about Google’s sponging up of emails, passwords, and other personal data via unsecured wi-fi networks, the company has released a full version of the report that reveals that, in spite of Google’s previous claims that the data-collected software was unauthorized, supervisors and others were actually aware of the program.
In 2010, Google acknowledged that its Street View cars had been gathering information about wi-fi while they were out and about photographing streets for the ground-level imagery feature but that it was not collecting payload data (e.g., entire emails, browsing histories, passwords, etc.). After it was discovered that Google had in fact been collecting payload data this way, it refused to reveal to the FCC exactly what information had been collected. Although Google has claimed that it had cooperated with the FCC investigation, the FCC nonetheless charged Google with obstructing the investigation and fined the company $25,000.
Google has previously defended itself by saying that the software that was harvesting personal information from wi-fi networks was an unauthorized program created by a rogue developer. However, the full, unedited version of the FCC report, which was first obtained by the Los Angeles Times, reveals that at least two other engineers had corresponded with the developer about the program. More, those associated with the Street View team told the FCC that they had no knowledge of the payload data collection yet a document describing the program was sent to the Street View team by the allegedly rogue developer in October of 2006.
Whether Google has claimed the software was a mistake or the actions of a rogue developer, the more that is learned about Google’s wi-fi snooping via Street View Cars, the more that the company’s prior defenses fail to stand up to scrutiny. In a statement to the New York Times, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, ““Google’s rogue engineer scenario collapses in light of the fact that others were aware of the project and did not object,” before adding that the debacle is the result of an absence of enforcement and regulation.
Jill Hazelbaker, a Google spokeswoman, explained to the LA Times Google’s decision to release the rather damning report. “We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals,” she said in an emailed statement. “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.”
The full, non-redacted report released by Google can be viewed below.