updated 04:45 pm EDT, Sat April 28, 2012
Google Street View gaffe result of lack of checks
Google has given an advance copy of the FCC's report on its Street View Wi-Fi scraping incident. Details posted by the LA Times confirmed Google's initial story of an engineer writing code that collected data wholesale, but revealed a lack of attention that let the code get on Street View cars. The engineer, whose name was censored, told two coworkers and even gave the team a document in October 2006 that detailed what he did, but none of those monitoring the document or the code claimed to have known what it collected.
One senior manager had preapproved the document before the Wi-Fi technique was implemented. The engineer in question hadn't thought the data scraping would be an issue, as a Street View car is never near enough a network access point for long.
Google had issues with some of the FCC's statements, but it was happy that it hadn't been found breaking the law. The FCC fined it $25,000, but for allegedly obstructing the investigation by withholding an e-mail conversation between the engineer in question and a senior team member, not for the Street View incident itself.
Early word of the lack of a penalty has already irked some in Congress as well as privacy groups, which have demanded further action. Apart from Google collecting private information it wasn't supposed to have found, the company has also been chastised for its reluctance to address the full scope of what happened. At first, Google denied any data collection, then admitted collecting fragments, then admitted that whole e-mail messages, web addresses, and other data had been picked up.
Street View cars were temporarily stopped after the incident and no longer carry Wi-Fi. Google has also toughened up its internal policies to make sure that code was inspected before it went out. The event has still raised concerns about how forthright Google has been regarding privacy collection, particularly as it consolidates privacy policies and enters into the social realm with Google+.