back to article Google fined for stalling Street View cars' Wi-Fi slurp probe

Google has been fined $25,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for impeding its investigation of the search giant's Street View cars, which inadvertently collected payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. The company first admitted in October 2010 that its street-mapping …


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  1. MrXavia
    Thumb Up

    Google protecting its employees? I'm actually quite impressed, no matter what their real reasons, its stopping any employee from being dragged into this just for driving a car!

    I can forgive google for snooping un-encrypted data, since its unencrypted, and anyone using an open wifi network should know that their data is free for the world to see!

    I've seen the improvement in gps since using wifi to assist, its a great idea, now all we need is some form of easy feedback for google maps/navigation to help fix the few times they don't tell you in time, or give bad instructions!

    1. Ian Michael Gumby

      Huh? Google isn't protecting their employees...

      First, lets clear the air. Google isn't protecting this employee. He's protecting himself.

      Its in Google's own best interest in providing legal counsel to their employees since it will also mean that they get protected at the same time.

      And its not the employee driving the car, but the employee who wrote the software that did the actual snooping.

      You may be so forgiving, I on the other hand am not. Most homes have encryption turned off because the simple plug n play don't have the instructions set up or the installer from the cable/phone company are too lazy to set it up and then have to explain to the users how to get their machines online.

      (Just like the Starbucks coffee shops with their free wi-fi that is unencrypted.)

      So there is no excuse for a company who once used the slogan, 'Do no evil' is actually one of the evilest companies on the planet.

      If you can forgive Google, do you forgive those who practice 'War Driving'? I mean, heck, you have to enforce the law equally. If you're going to make war driving a criminal offense, then explain how what Google did was different? Keep in mind, while we have no evidence that Google didn't review any of the data, that doesn't mean that they didn't. As to its value... if you think about it. Its very clear what they could do with it....

      And to your last point. More accurate GPS... you really mean A-GPS. If you wanted more accurate GPS, then you'd have a better clock, receiver/antenna in your device. And there are other ways of enhancing your GPS accuracy if you install a radio receiver in your handset too.

      (But lets not go there... ;-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Huh? Google isn't protecting their employees...

        I think MrXavia was referring to the following quote:

        "its investigation of Google's Street View data collection had been hampered by the company's refusal to identify which employees were involved in the slurp"

        1. Ian Michael Gumby

          Re: Huh? Google isn't protecting their employees...

          "its investigation of Google's Street View data collection had been hampered by the company's refusal to identify which employees were involved in the slurp"

          Again, its not protecting the employees but protecting Google.

  2. N2

    No wonder

    Companies act as if they are beyond the law, fining Google $25,000 is about as damaging as fining me 25 cents

    1. Andrew Moore

      Re: No wonder

      Exactly what I was thinking- 'Oooh $25,000. That will put a huge dent in the dividend payout this year. Google will think twice about doing that again in the future.'

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: No wonder

      Considering that Google measures it's revenue in billions, I think it would be more accurate to say that fining Google $25k would be like fining me 2.5% of a penny.

      Yet useful data point on the "Regulators are useless" graph

    3. Arthur Dent

      Re: No wonder

      Evidence of reglator capture, perhaps? It's at least three decimal orders of magnitude lower that the minimal amount that could have been regarded as a mild slap on the wrist for failing to cooperate with the investigation.

  3. banjomike

    inadvertently collected ???

    No way, you don't "inadvertently collect" terabytes of data in dozens of countries and continue to store it inadvertently.

    Google knew damned well what they were doing.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Not illegal?

    I don't care if the data was unencrypted - google still engaged in unjustified wire-tapping and invaded the privacy of the people concerned. Why was that not illegal?

    And yes I know people ought to be more careful of their privacy, but that was no excuse for google to take advantage of them.

    1. Graham 32

      Re: Not illegal?

      It's not illegal in the same way that it's not illegal for me to overhear a conversation you have with your friends in a pub. If you want to keep it secret you should take sensible precautions to make it so.

      1. Eguro

        Re: Not illegal?

        Seems like if you systematize your "overhearing", it becomes less innocent and more stalker-ish.

        Nevermind the fact that if I went around "overhearing" all the time, I'd just end up in the looney bin...

      2. Ian Michael Gumby

        Re: Not illegal?

        "It's not illegal in the same way that it's not illegal for me to overhear a conversation you have with your friends in a pub. "


        Very bad analogy and wrong on so many levels.

        First, overhearing a conversation in a pub doesn't require the use of any technology, except for what God has given you. Also there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. There isn't any overt act on your part. Or rather there doesn't have to be any overt act.

        Slurping unencrypted data from a wi-fi takes an overt act. You must have equipment and software set up to sniff and record the data.

        Big difference.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not illegal?

          Not very correct..

          ANY wifi device can see the air packets (and needs to be able to for scans to work). When you scan for a list of APs, you are kind of listening in to all data. By design, in order to be seen, the AP ssid data is almost always unencrypted. The equipment used is no different from an out of box wifi adapter in promiscuous mode.

          This is wireless, wiretap analogies don't apply. It's like saying enabling wireshark in promiscuous mode is illegal. Any ethernet adapter will work in that mode.

          In unencrypted mode, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. Educating the lay user is a different matter. Ignorance does not automatically entitle one to legal protection.

          I am not saying Google did not have intent, but equally I don't agree with the comment that it is an illegal act.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby

            @LOL Re: Not illegal?

            First the patent along with other things shows Mens Rea. (Guilty Mind)

            This covers the intent.

            Second. We're not talking about SSIDs we are talking about capturing any and all unencrypted packets from the devices. SSIDs are easy to filter and handle separately.

            And unfortunately you're wrong. Even unencrypted there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

            Want an example? It may be before your time, but 900MHz cordless phones used to be unencrypted. If you and a neighbor lived close enough and used the same channels, it was possible to listen in on their phone conversations. Even that act would be and still is considered illegal. Why? Because there is an expectation of privacy.

            Of course, the laws differ from State to state and country to country. YMMV

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            "The equipment used is no different from an out of box wifi adapter in promiscuous mode."

            Yes, but wifi adapters with that feature are not common, IIRC there were only two models which could do it.

            You also need to be running Linux and specialist software tools in order to use that feature. Which puts such capabilities far outside the reach of ordinary users.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not illegal?


        Overhearing a public conversation is NOT the same thing as *secretly* recording and storing it.

        Try that in any self-respecting democracy in a grand-scale fashion and come back here to post your conclusions.

  5. Jon Press

    searching... e-mail ‘a time-consuming and burdensome task’?

    I thought that searching e-mail was part of Google's core business.

  6. adam payne

    Google is laughing

    Just how exactly can you inadvertently collect data from unsecured Wifi networks?

    How Google can impede the investigation and then get away with a small fine like that is just typical.

    1. petur

      Re: Google is laughing

      By incorrectly configuring a tool that was supposed to just store wifi SSID together with location. The tool also logged data it received. Some employee who most probably got fired or received a serious talk from his boss f*cked up.

      The only thing you can blame Google is that there was no reviewing of this configuration.

      The purpose of the whole setup was for the good of the people, however (my tablet without gps knows its location pretty well, for example, as good as in the days of the first gps receivers)

      1. Stephen 2

        Re: Google is laughing

        Uhhuh, cos there wasn't weeks spent on the code that slurped data and there wasn't weeks or months of testing. And no one signed off on all the HD space required for the data in the cars and the huge database of data back at HQ.

        Right... just an accidental misconfiguration.

        1. petur

          Re: Google is laughing

          Yup. Just think about the amount concerned *per car*, which easily fitted on the smallest harddrive you get. And the data wasn't stored on big central databases, but was found on the actual disks when reviewing the data the cars brought in. And when that data was found Google informed the authorities of this f*ckup.

          Congrats on downvoting and twisting the truth.

      2. Ian Michael Gumby

        Re: Google is laughing


        Sorry, but you can't claim that it was an innocent mistake due to a programming glitch when Google files for a patent to actually slurp data.

  7. Red Bren

    Life imitating comedy

    So Google writes a cheque for $50k and does it again.

  8. amanfromearth

    The cognoscenti have known for some time..

    Google IS Evil.

  9. John70
    Thumb Up

    Quote of the Week

    “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 commission reportedly said.

  10. mark 63 Silver badge

    "The commission added that the world's largest ad broker's actions had not been unlawful because the data collected was unencrypted."

    My diary's unencrypted too , that dosent mean google have got the right to read it.

  11. WallyG

    Everyone smells Google money!

    This is unbelievable: if anyone is stupid enough to broadcast their information in a non-secured way, why is it the fault of the listener? This is nothing more than the 2 basic human instincts: envy & greed. Everyone knows Google is a deep pool of cash so anything is a good excuse to go after it.

    1. Crisp

      Re: Everyone smells Google money!

      So if I leave my front door unlocked, does that give you the right to come in and have a poke around?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Everyone smells Google money!

        I have a sneaking suspicion that yes they have! It's certainly not breaking & entering. I suspect it's the same as having a (presumed) right to walk up your path so they can knock on your door. And if the door is open they can go a bit further until you instruct them to leave.

        1. Jon Press

          Re: I have a sneaking suspicion that yes they have!

          There's a big difference between the door being wide open and being closed but unlocked. In the latter case it most certainly is "breaking & entering" (at least in England and Wales) or burglary (in most of the US).

        2. Ian Michael Gumby

          @ AC B& E wuz Re: Everyone smells Google money!

          Actually whether you leave your door unlocked or not doesn't change the fact that it is still breaking and entering.

          If the door is open, then it would probably be a case of criminal trespass.

          Of course if you did leave your house unlocked and someone walked in and stole your priceless Monet, good luck in trying to collect the insurance for the painting.... ;-)

      2. electricmonk

        Re: Everyone smells Google money!

        Not a fair comparison, as I think you know. A closer analogy would be:

        "So if I open my front window so you can hear my stereo in the street, does that give you the right to listen to it?"

        Not so clear-cut now, is it...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Everyone smells Google money!

          Nice one, although you would require a PRS license or get fined.

        2. Nigel 11
          Thumb Down

          Re: Everyone smells Google money!

          I'd call that even more clear-cut, except I probably don't want to listen to it, and I don't have the option to turn it off. Well, not without breaking in.

          It's only the RIAA that probably thinks both of us owe them money.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Everyone smells Google money!

        No, by having open WiFi means they don't need to come through your front door, all your stuff is already in the street!

      4. NukEvil
        Thumb Down

        Re: Crisp, front door unlocked

        Not the correct analogy, for a person would still have to open the door first.

        In this case, it'd be more like you putting a red billboard in your front yard, then charging the local philanthropist millions of dollars (or whatever currency you choose) just for walking down the sidewalk and glancing up at said billboard.

        1. Crisp


          That makes things a little clearer.

          I don't mind someone wandering past and looking at the number on my front door.

          I do mind when people come past the front door and start rifling through my stuff.

    2. Stephen 2

      Re: Everyone smells Google money!

      Phone lines are unencrypted.. but you can't just go to the front of someones house, splice the wire and start listening in.

      Our wifi data didn't just accidentally fall into their systems. They purposely made software to grab and store this data.

      1. Crisp

        So the moral of the story is...

        I should lock my front door.

  12. Harry

    "Google has been fined $25,000"

    I'm sure that will put a huge dent in its balance sheet and act as an incentive to promptly co-operate with future requests.

    I'm not sure that even putting another 3 zeros on the end would have the slightest impact. For a company of that size, it needs to be at least 6 more.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Everyone's data should be public.... Except ours.


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "For a company of that size, it needs to be at least 6 more."


    The people responsible need to see the inside of the prison system.

    Fines just get passed on to the paying customers, nothing will change as a result.

    Fining corporates is always pointless.

    Corporates don't make decisions, individuals do. That's why the individuals at the top pay themselves so much when things are going well - because they personally made it happen. And when things are not going so well, they need to take the consequences too, because they personally made it happen. But personal fines don't work at this level, they'd just end up with the Remuneration Committee voting to pay the fine in the same way as Barclays remuneration committee voted to pay Bob Diamond's tax bill.

    If corporates are breaking the law, or even just obstructing the enforcement of the law, then lock up the people responsible. Maybe not for long, but for long enough for others to realise that justice does still actually mean something, and that the law cannot be bought.

    [I know it'll never happen in the West...]

  15. trackercanada

    Time to bail on Google

    Just goes to show you that if you make huge amounts of money and have good lawyers then go ahead and do what you want. As well, why is it that the government always get the money even if they do manage to collect some money and not those negatively effected by the perp?

    Don't forget the US law that states all data on US soil is theirs (no matter where it originated from). Therefore the US security apparatus does not want Google touched either.

    Time to bail on Google.

  16. JaitcH

    A few cars 'worrisome; how would the FCC describe millions of Smartfones?

    QUOTE: "the regulator had described Google’s interception of data as “worrisome”, after the internet giant admitted its Street View cars in more than 30 countries secretly gobbled chunks of web traffic as they travelled through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks"

    Therefore I take it the FCC as zero concerns with hundreds of millions of Smartfones sniffing WiFi data globally? AND that the US NSA has full, unfettered access to this data!

    Like the rest of the US government, I think the FCC has is priorities severely compromised.

    Personally, I trust Google way more than the US government who thinks it is the dominant country, which is delusional given it has no money.

  17. Ian Michael Gumby

    Don't forget the patent application.

    First, not to defend Google,

    Its possible that they 'inadvertently' collected the data. That is that they developed the tech, but that they didn't approve of the tech being used. Here we are arguing semantics but its what their lawyers will do. They could argue that they were developing the tech, however they inadvertently put the tech in to practice prior to talking with counsel or getting executive/senior management to buy off on it. (Plausible denial )

    However, Google did file a patent for such a data slurp. In doing so, counsel would have had to be notified that such a technology existed and that it could be illegal under various countries where they did business. At the same time, said corporate counsel could not claim ignorance of the various local laws because that is precisely part of their job. (You can't be ignorant of the law if you are a member of the courts.)

    This kind of puts a major dent in their defense.

    As to anyone questioning the value of the data... if you think about it. Having this data is a proverbial gold mine.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "In June 2010, the regulator had described Google’s interception of data as “worrisome”, after the internet giant admitted its Street View cars in more than 30 countries secretly gobbled chunks of web traffic as they travelled through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks."

    This was intercepting data through a wireless system the FCC approved of. I do not agree with Google recording emails, but the FCC approved a method of unencoded wireless data traffic when they licensed the WiFi bands. Would have been dirt simple to enforce even base level encryption to stop eavesdropping, but the US Gov slurps more data in a day than Google has ever done. Thank the three letter agencies for that.

  19. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Which legal framework... this Google spokesman working in?

    "Google confirmed it had received the order to pay up. A spokesman told The Register: "We worked in good faith to answer the FCC's questions throughout the inquiry, and we're pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law."

    The FCC just fined you for not complying with legal request FFS.

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