updated 05:35 pm EST, Wed November 10, 2010
FCC checking possible Google Street View
The FCC has launched an investigation that could accuse Google of violating federal law through its unintentional Wi-Fi scraping with Street View cars, an official said Wednesday. The hunt was in response to calls by advocates at the Electronic Privacy Information Center to check whether the scanning broke eavesdropping laws. If found to be intentional, the harvested data could lead to fines of up to $50,000 for each identified snooping instance, the WSJ noted.
Neither the FCC nor Google had commented on the accusations as of this evening.
A penalty may be less likely in the wake of the FTC dropping its investigation after Google instituted privacy changes, which included an overseer for privacy as well as mandatory training and the creation of privacy documents for each major project. The agency was primarily interested in changing Google's policy rather than enforcement.
Google has nonetheless drawn criticism for its handling of the event. When it first reported the problem in the spring, it insisted that none of the information collected by passing Street View cars contained sensitive information as it was too brief to be useful. Late last month, however, it admitted that the information included e-mail messages, passwords and whole web addresses.
The inclusion of Wi-Fi was originally intended solely to map the location of Wi-Fi access points, but an engineer's test code for sniffing data was reportedly left in the hardware by accident when Street View launched. Investigations in the UK have already determined that Google to have conducted illegal activity in the country, while checks on the behavior have also been underway in Europe and South Korea.
Street View cars were briefly grounded but later resumed work with Wi-Fi removed altogether.