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FCC nails Google with $25K fine for dragging heels in StreetView probe

Frustrated regulators cite Google's slow response to FCC request for information into company's data collection practices.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read
James Martin/CNET

Updated: 9:30 A.M. PTFrustrated by Google's slow response, the Federal Communications Commission slapped a $25,000 fine on the company, alleging that the Web giant "deliberately impeded and delayed" its probe into the policies governing the StreetView street-mapping service.

The government started its investigation a couple of years ago after Google was found to have collected and stored payload data from unencrypted wireless networks as part of a project where it Wi-Fi-enabled Street View cars got sent around the United States and Europe. At the time, Google said this was inadvertent and that it was trying to compile a list of Wi-Fi network hotspots as a way to enhance to geolocation services on mobile devices through 'assisted-GPS.'

European regulators later forced Google to offer an opt-out service.

The heavily redacted statement (PDF) by the FCC painted Google as being too busy to respond with alacrity to its request for information and suggested more than slight frustration.

"Although a world leader in digital search capability, Google took the position that searching its employees' e-mail 'would be a time-consuming and burdensome task,'" the report said. It also said that Google refused to release the names of the individuals responsible for the program.

Google's response to the inquiry was to provide just five documents and no emails, according to the FCC. It said that Google redacted the names of engineers whose names appeared on the submitted documents because doing so "at this stage serves no useful purpose with respect to whether the facts and circumstances give rise to a violation" of the law.

Google later offered up more information after a subsequent demand for more information about its privacy policy, but the FCC still found its response wanting.

At a meeting with Google on May 18,2011, the bureau reiterated once more its concern regarding the Company's failure to provide a compliant declaration. The Bureau explained that without one, the Commission could not place confidence in the completeness and veracity of Google's submissions. Again, the Company failed to provide a compliant declaration."

Google was later threatened with a subpena, directing it for a fifth time to comply with a demand for a more complete declaration. On September 7, Google did comply with declarations from nine employees who had been involved with StreetView. It was impossible to glean what they might have told investigators because large sections of the report are blacked out.

However, investigators did not find evidence that Google accessed or used the encrypted data it stored, in part, the report said, because they were unable to compel an interview with someone only identified as "Engineer Doe."

Google declined comment beyond a statement sent by a spokeswoman: "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."