Publication of the complete FCC report on the murky goings on at Google when its Streetview cars were secretly collecting private information from unsecured WiFi networks (whilst ostensibly just taking photos) shows that, despite claiming the collection of the data was a "mistake", the Cookie Monster knew all along that it was being stolen. Martyn Warwick reports.
Back at the beginning of April, a heavily "redacted" version of the report was released with huge chunks simply excised. It caused a furore and now Google itself has handed a longer but still incomplete version to the US media with the intent of clearing its name and "proving" that it does "no evil." Go to the Los Angeles Times website if you want to see it for yourself.
The FCC investigation into the scandal took 17 long months and concluded that whilst as a corporate entity Google did not break wiretapping law, some of its employees certainly did. It also fined Google, a company worth more than a hundred billion dollars, a derisory US$25,000 for deliberately obstructing the course of the enquiry. Yup, that'll teach it a lesson it won't forget.
The FCC finds that an unnamed Google worker (who is referred to throughout as "Engineer Doe" or should that be "Doh"?) had, in 2008, informed others, including at least one senior manager, of his plan to gain access to and collect personal private data from unsecured WiFi connections as the Street View vehicles drove by homes, shops and offices. The illegal practice went on for two full years after the engineer revealed his sneaky ideas.
Google maintains it knew nothing of the secret and illegal collection of the private data until 2010. It also claims that the FCC report vindicates its claims that the illegality was the responsibility of that single "Engineer Doe".
Unurprisingly, Google fails to address the fact that, apparently, it completely failed to notice and put a stop to the illegal activities at any time between its inception in 2008 and its eventual detection and revelation to the authorities and the general public in 2010. And even then Google's first reaction was deny, bluster and only later to apologise.
Google also said the "payload data" it had accessed and collected illegally would never be put to any use. However, Engineer Doe himself wrote that the information illegally obtained would "be analysed offline for use in other initiatives'".
He added, "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".
Google's top brass continues to maintain that no-one in the upper echelons of the company ever read Doe's proposals and claim that the illegality simply slipped though the net because the usual practice is for many projects to be "pre-approved" by management without any stress-testing or examination for potential faults, snafus and illegalities. Google critics say this claim is either untrue or prima facie evidence of a lack of duty and due diligence on the part of top management.
The FCC report says Doe did what he did to curry favour with his superiors in the belief that such data would be "useful to the company." Thus he wrote a "design document" detailing the methodology of snooping on unsecured WiFi networks and included in that report a "to do" list that included the provision to discuss "privacy considerations" with a Google lawyer. The FCC report concludes that the meeting with lawyers simply never took place.
Google is keeping secret the name of the senior manager allegedly involved and "Enginner Doe" declines to testify having invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Perhaps one day we'll learn just how one man, apparently without the knowledge of any supervisors or the authorisation of management at any level within Google, was able all on his lonesome, to devise what must have been an incredibly complex and therefore expensive way to identify, access and extract masses of information from unsecured WiiFi connections from within a moving vehicle and then pass all that data back to the Mother Ship, seemingly without the Mother Ship knowing anything about it. It was a massive project and must have registered on Google's radar. Google's explanation is, literally, incredible but we are asked to believe that the secret data gathering of private and confidential information happened by accident.
What a fine, noble and upstanding company Google is.
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