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Google releases full FCC report on Street View probe

Company releases full version of FCC's report on company's controversial gathering of personal data with Street View cars.

A portion of the heavily redacted report released by the FCC earlier this month. Google has just released a full version.

Google has released a full version of the FCC's report on the company's controversial gathering of personal data with Street View cars.

The move, reported by the Los Angeles Times, comes about a week after a privacy group filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the full report, and a short time after the FCC released a heavily redacted version, saying Google's data collection had not broken the law but that the commission would impose a $25,000 fine on the company for "deliberately impeding and delaying" its probe.

There have been a handful of government investigations into how Google's Street View cars collected the personal and private data of individuals via wireless networks while mapping cities in more than 30 countries. Google has said the cars were supposed to collect just the locations of Wi-Fi access points, but that they also inadvertently collected e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet-usage history, and other data from unsecured wireless networks for two years or so, beginning in 2007.

In regard to the newly released FCC document, Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in an e-mailed statement to the Los Angeles Times, "We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals. 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."

As Hazelbaker notes, the newly released report blacks out only the names of individuals -- revealing, the LA Times says, new details and raising new questions. The FCC speaks of a rogue engineer who deliberately wrote code to collect the data, and the agency questions whether the employee's colleagues and managers knew, or should have known, about the code. Among the claims made by FCC investigators in the full document, as reported by the Times:

  • The engineer told two colleagues, including a senior manager, about the code.
  • The engineer also distributed to the Street View team a document that said the data collection would take place.
  • A senior manager said he had preapproved the document before it was written; Street View managers said they hadn't read the document; and a colleague recalled receiving the document but didn't remember any reference to such data collection.
  • A different engineer, who worked on a line-by-line debugging of code for the Street View project, said he didn't see the data-collection code.
  • Engineers on the project told the FCC they weren't required to get approval from project managers before modifying the code.
  • The rogue engineer was working on Street View only as a side project and was interested in collecting the data to see if it could be used in other Google products. He dismissed privacy concerns because the Street View cars wouldn't be near "any given user for an extended period of time" (though he made a note to discuss the issue with a product counsel).
  • The engineer reviewed the data at least once for info on frequently visited Web sites, thinking the data could help Google's search team. But when a member of the search quality team said such data had no value, the engineer dropped the idea.

The FCC also accuses Google in the report of holding back an e-mail that discussed the engineer's review of data with a senior manager on the project, the LA Times reports.

Among some people, suspicions remain about Google's stance toward data-collection and privacy. Most recently, concerns have been raised about the company's Drive cloud-storage service. The more data Google has, CNET's Rafe Needleman has written, the more valuable the company's core service, targeted advertising, becomes.

On April 17, U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat in the House, called on Congress to hold a hearing on the Street View data-gathering incident. "The circumstances surrounding Google's surreptitious siphoning of personal information leaves many unanswered questions," he said.

On April 19, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information request to see the full report. The group's executive director told the LA Times that EPIC looked forward to reviewing the newly released document.