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Google fined for stalling Street View cars' Wi-Fi slurp probe

Must pay pocket change for gobbling unencrypted packets

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Google has been fined $25,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for impeding its investigation of the search giant's Street View cars, which inadvertently collected payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

The company first admitted in October 2010 that its street-mapping vehicles had sniffed personal data, but added at the time that this was "accidental".

Late on Friday, regulators at the FCC said Google "deliberately impeded and delayed" a probe into the Street View data slurp. The watchdog slapped a $25k (£15.7k) penalty on the firm (2011 profit: $9.7bn, £6.1bn), according to the New York Times.

The commission added that the world's largest ad broker's actions had not been unlawful because the data collected was unencrypted.

Google confirmed it had received the order to pay up. A spokesman told The Register: "We worked in good faith to answer the FCC's questions throughout the inquiry, and we're pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law."

The FCC said its investigation of Google's Street View data collection had been hampered by the company's refusal to identify which employees were involved in the slurp. Google also declined to hand over emails to help the FCC probe the matter further.

“Although a world leader in digital search capability, Google took the position that searching its employees’ e-mail ‘would be a time-consuming and burdensome task’,” the commission reportedly said.

The NYT report added that the main engineer behind Street View, whose cars sniffed the data between 2007 and 2010, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, meaning that person could remain silent on the matter.

For the FCC, which examined whether Mountain View's actions violated the Communications Act in the US, its investigation ended with questions going unanswered from Google.

In June 2010, the regulator had described Google’s interception of data as “worrisome”, after the internet giant admitted its Street View cars in more than 30 countries secretly gobbled chunks of web traffic as they travelled through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. ®

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