Google has been served with a $25,000 fine for impeding an investigation into its collection of personal information during the course of creating Street View.
While the company was collecting visual data between 2007 and 2010, vehicles driving around the US, and subsequently Europe, taking pictures for the Street View maps also harvested information from unprotected Wi-Fi networks. The information collected from these Wi-Fi networks included the location, name and in some cases the content, including emails.
At the time of the original investigations, it is said that the Google engineer in charge of the project refused to speak with the Federal Communications Commission, citing Fifth Amendment rights that protect the right to silence of someone accused by the government of a crime.
However in this instance the FCC have claimed that Google’s behaviour obstructed their investigation, saying:
“Google refused to identify any employees or produce any emails. The company could not supply compliant declarations without identifying employees it preferred not to identify… Misconduct of this nature threatens to compromise the commission’s ability to effectively investigate possible violations of the Communications Act and the commission’s rules.”
In response, a Google statement says:
“As the FCC notes in their report, we provided all the materials the regulators felt they needed to conclude their investigation and we were not found to have violated any laws… We disagree with the FCC’s characterisation of our co-operation in their investigation and will be filing a response.”
When this story first broke in 2010, Google admitted that they had made an error by collecting data that they were not entitled to. Data protection agencies across Europe reacted differently, with the Irish and UK commissioners suggesting that Google should destroy the data without facing a penalty, while in Germany there were calls for an examination to determine whether or not a crime had been committed.