FCC: Google Knowingly Used Street View Cars to Snoop on Emails, Texts
May 1, 2012 3:16 AM
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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.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
5/1/2012 2:26:00 PM
Or, is our law enforcement dead?
Some laws cannot not be enforced (like the hands free cell phone laws).
Some things are not illegal (like recording public information or public broadcasts).
It is a known fact that unsecured networks are open for anyone to snoop on. If you do not secure your network then you are inviting anyone within range to look at what you are doing. This is like you standing on your roof and yelling your credit card numbers. Obviously if you did not want me to use your credit card you would not have told me the number.
It is a little different, as the average person knows not to yell their credit card info, but they have not yet learned to secure their networks. Even so, all sensitive information provided over the internet is SSL encrypted so what sensitive information could Google really have gotten? It is not like Google logged onto the network and started looking for file shares (which would not be illegal since the hoster obviously wanted to share their files otherwise they would have secured their network or secured the shared folders).
Yes, the engineer should have known not to store the data for latter use. The manager should have reviewed the engineer's plans (though I have never seen a manager who listens to an engineer unless the engineer yelling about a new catastrophic problem).
"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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