PUBLISHED: 20:14 EST, 29 April 2012 | UPDATED: 20:17 EST, 29 April 2012
Google’s collection of sensitive and personal information from unsecured WiFi networks around the world was a deliberate and repeated choice, a new report alleges.
The Federal Communications Commission has found that the search engine giant knew that the camera-clad cars of their Street View project were retrieving and storing ‘payload data’ from unsuspecting households for years.
The company had previously said that the data harvesting was a ‘mistake’ and vowed that the data would never be used — claims that were debunked in the explosive report.
The Los Angeles Times published the report in full, which was the result of a 17-month long investigation by the FCC.
Google provided the paper with the text, hoping that the details revealed would clear the company’s name.
‘We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals,’ a Google spokeswoman said to the Wall Street Journal.
‘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 report details how between 2007 and 2010, Google Street View cars, which were tasked with photographing streetscapes, also tapped into the browsing histories, text messages and personal emails of people on unsecured WiFi networks.
The engineer that designed the project said that this information would ‘be analyzed offline for use in other initiatives’ in the original proposal, as well as told several other Google employees of the data collection capabilities of the program, according to the report.
‘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,’ the engineer wrote.
Denied: The company had previously said that the data harvesting was a ‘mistake’ and vowed that the data would never be used – claims that were debunked in the explosive report
After German regulators revealed the practice to the world in 2010, Google grounded all its Street View cars, but refused to show authorities what kind of data they had collected, citing user privacy concerns.
The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, state attorney generals and the FCC collaborated to investigate the issue in the United States.
Google manager’s defended their ignorance to the bitter end, saying they had never even read the engineer’s proposal and ‘preapproved’ the idea before it was written.
At the conclusion of the investigation, Google was fined $25,000 for obstructing the inquiry, but was not found guilty of breaking any laws.
Still, technology experts are sounding the alarm about the company’s unquenchable thirst for user data.
‘This is what happens in the absence of enforcement and the absence of regulation,’ Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said to the New York Times.
He also placed some of the blame back on the FCC, for botching the investigation and failing to keep a closer eye on Google’s activities.
Other watchdog groups want Congress to hold hearings to uncover the full extent to which Google’s management was involved.