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FCC Proposes $25000 Fine On Google For Impeding Probe Into Data Collection

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4/15/2012 7:16 AM ET

The Federal Communications Commission charged that Google Inc. (GOOG: Quote) deliberately impeded and delayed an investigation into whether the company violated federal rules when its street-mapping service collected and stored data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in 2010. The Federal Communications Commission or FCC proposed a $25,000 fine on the company.

However, the agency said that it will not take enforcement action under the FCC law against the company for its collection of payload data. There is no precedent for applying the FCC law to unprotected Wi-Fi networks. The agency also said there was not enough evidence to conclude Google had violated those rules.

"We worked in good faith to answer the FCC's questions throughout the inquiry, and we are pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement.

As part of its Street View project, Google collected data from Wi-Fi networks throughout the United States and around the world, between May 2007 and May 2010. The purpose of the company's Wi-Fi data collection initiative was to capture information about Wi-Fi networks that the company could use to help establish users' locations and provide location-based services. But the company also collected "payload" data- the content of internet communications-that was not needed for its location database project. This payload data included e-mail and text messages, passwords, internet usage history, and other sensitive personal information.

When European data protection authorities investigated Google's Wi-Fi data collection efforts in 2010, the company initially denied collecting payload. On May 14, 2010, however, the company publicly acknowledge that it had been "collecting samples of payload data from open Wi-Fi networks" but stated that it likely collected only fragmented data. The company traced the collection of payload data to code that was "mistakenly" included in its Wi-Fi data collection software.

On October 22, 2010, Google acknowledged that for the first time that "in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords."

Based on the initial review, in November 2010, the commission's Enforcement Bureau issued a Letter of Inquiry that launched an official investigation into whether the company's data collection practices violated the FCC law.

The agency said that the record developed in this investigation included the company's written responses to question from the Enforcement Bureau. In addition, Bureau staff interviewed six individuals—five Google employees and an employee of Stroz Friedberg, a consulting firm Google retained to conduct forensic analysis of its Wi-Fi data collection Software code. The Bureau also issued a subpoena to take the deposition of the Google engineer, who developed the software code that Google used to collect and store payload data. Through counsel, however, the Google engineer invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to testify.

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by RTT Staff Writer

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