Report Says Engineer Designed Google Street View with Payload Data Gathering in Mind

Google says it released the full FCC report on Street View consumer privacy allegations to hopefully put the matter to rest. But revelations that the code might have been created with surreptitious data gathering in mind is likely to keep the issue very much alive.

Google says it released the full FCC report on Street View consumer privacy allegations to hopefully put the matter to rest. But revelations that the code might have been created with surreptitious data gathering in mind is likely to keep the issue very much alive.

An article in today’s Los Angeles Times said an engineer working on Street View wrote the software code so Street View cars could capture emails, passwords and other data from unprotected wireless networks. Although that engineer invoked the 5th Amendment during the federal investigation, the report says he told others at Google what he’d done.

“The FCC says he told two other engineers, one of them a senior manager, that he was collecting the payload data. He also gave the entire Street View team a copy of a document in October 2006 that detailed his work on Street View. In it, the FCC says, he noted that Google would be logging such data,” according to the L.A. Times article.

“Those on Google’s Street View team told the FCC they had no knowledge that the payload data was being collected. Google maintains that it did not authorize the gathering of personal information while it was mapping wireless networks in the United States and Europe,” the article continued.

Privacy advocates and some politicians expressed outrage after the FCC issued Google a $25,000 fine for stonewalling investigators, what some saw as a “slap on the pinkie” even if it was the maximum fine allowed for the violation. It was the other finding — that collecting the data was not unlawful — that aroused the most anger.

Google continues to deny it obstructed the investigation and released the full report, which it originally had tried to supress, to the Times on Friday.

“We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals,” Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in an emailed statement. “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.”  

The company has maintained it knew nothing about the data collected from unsecured Wi-Fi transmissions as Street View cars passed by and stopped the practice in April 2010. Both the FTC and the Justice Department also launched investigations that were closed in 2011.  

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Discussion

  • joe on

    Are there laws that deal with capturing non-encrypted wireless traffic?

  • Anonymous on

    It's not against the law if the transmission is not protected; it's considered available for public consumption. If it's sniffed from a secured Wi-Fi, then it is against the law.

  • Anonymous on

    It's not against the law if the transmission is not protected; it's considered available for public consumption. If it's sniffed from a secured Wi-Fi, then it is against the law.

  • Tinman57 on

    I've been saying this from the day it made the news.  Software can only do what it was written to do, it can't just "accidently" gather information without code written to do this....

  • Anonymous Too on

    It is like robbing a bank, getting caught, returning the money and saying you are sorry. Then getting a small fine for not paying interest while the money was in your possession.

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