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FCC claims Google supervisors knew about Street View Wi-Fi sniffing plans

30 Apr 2012
Google Streetview Red Car

A report from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has accused Google of knowingly collecting households' Wi-Fi data, a practice the search giant has long argued happened by mistake during the design of its Street View service.

The FCC's 17-month investigation found that Google supervisors had known about the plan to collect so-called payload data, shredding Google's previous claim the decision was a mistake by a lone engineer.

The FFC cited a feasibility study in to Street View by an unnamed Google engineer.

“A typical concern might be that we are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they are doing,” the engineer had warned.

His report also concluded that privacy discussions were needed with Google's so-called product council. “That never happened,” the FFC reported.

The FCC report concluded that Google had not breached US wiretapping laws but sharply criticised the company for obstructing its investigations, fining it $25,000 in the process.

The data collection occurred during Google's efforts to supplement its map service with shots taken by its fleet of Street View cars.

Google believed it would be possible to offer location services to its users by mapping local area networks and Wi-Fi hotspots, by a process known as wardriving.

"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," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) investigated Google's Street View project after it emerged that it had collected homeowners Wi-Fi data as part of its wardriving effort.

The ICO has previously censured Google for Street View's breach of the Data Protection Act and has since audited the company's privacy and data protection policies.

V3 contacted the ICO for comment on the latest revelations but had received no reply at the time of publication.

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