FCC: Google Knowingly Used Street View Cars to Snoop on Emails, Texts
May 1, 2012 3:16 AM
Google is watching you
Did senior level Google Inc. (
) managers know of and condone one of their engineer's audacious schemes to "wardrive" the United States and Europe, using the company's
"Street View" cars
? That's what U.S. government officials at the
U.S. Federal Communications Commission
I. Google Managers Pre-Approved Spying on the Public
The new allegations come as the latest public relations setback for Google and its emabattled "Street View" program. The company, whose informal slogan is "Don't be evil", claims to follow an "explore first, worry about profit later" mentality.
Street View is the perfect embodiment of the Google ethos -- or so it seemed. Launched in 2007, the project sent cars wired with cameras and high-tech communications equipment out on the roads in an unprecedented bid to provide
street-level views of every stretch of road
in the developed world.
The project was supposed to be for the betterment of mankind, or something along those lines. But Google's altruism has been called into question when it was revealed that it was using its wired Street View vehicles as warwagons to troll unsecured wireles connection connections. Further, the Google cars were discovered to be intercepting unsecured email and SMS traffic, data mining peoples' private conversations.
Google merrily used its Street View cars to data mine open WiFi connections. Now the company claims it was just an innocenent mistake, blaming an unnamed engineer.
[Image Source: Jacopast/Wikipedia]
Google cast this hidden capability
as a "bug"
in the Street View code, created by a misguided engineer. But according to the FCC while Google appears to have broken no laws in spying on people on unsecured lines, emails between the engineer in charge of the program and two other employees -- including a senior manager -- indicate that the program was not a rogue effort. It was in fact on the radar of at least some members of Google's senior staff.
II. Google Let Off With a Slap on the Wrist
The FCC did dock Google $25K -- essentially a slap on the wrist for the multi-billion dollar tech firm -- for impeding its investigation. But Google claims it has nothing to hide and is publishing the emails described by the FCC, with the engineers and manager's names redacted.
Google now admits that five of its engineers were involved in the effort, but it denies knowingly playing unwelcome house guest on home internet connections across North America and Europe.
Google has made billions off of figuring out your online habits and providing targeted marketing. [Image Source: My Life Untethered]
The internet firm categorizes the snooping as "minimal" and says that the program was not even big enough to be reviewed by the company's legal staff. The program was launched in Oct. 2006 by "Engineer Doe" and was pre-approved by at least one manager who devoted resources to the project.
Google's lawyers admit that the engineer who spearheaded the effort did examine personal web traffic to establish a list of most-visited websites for certain IPs, but it insists that the abuse was not pervasive.
The company promises to
try extra hard to protect the public's privacy
in the future. It insists that the data mining plot was simply an innocent mistake. A company spokesperson writes, "The record... shows that Google's supervision of the Wi-Fi data collection project was minimal ... indeed, it appears that no one at the company carefully reviewed the substance of Engineer Doe's software code or the design document."
Despite the U.S. letting off Google with just a warning, the Mountain View, Calif.-based software company is facing the prospect of stiffer fines in
the European Union
. The company is also
facing private lawsuits
over the unwanted surveillance.
"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA
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