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Google to FCC: Protecting Street View coder didn't derail probe

No need to out engineer in Wi-Fi data slurp, says ad giant

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Google has claimed to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that protecting the identity of the engineer responsible for the Street View data slurp had no consequence on the watchdog's investigation.

The probe ended with the FCC fining Google $25,000 for impeding its inquiry into the company's fleet of photo-snapping cars that inadvertently collected payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Because the data slurped had been unencrypted, the Commission ruled that Google's actions could not be considered illegal under the US Wiretap Act. Instead the company was slapped with a paltry financial penalty for hampering the Feds' 18-month-long investigation.

In a missive to the FCC, Google reportedly told the watchdog:

"The fact that the engineer was legally unavailable did not leave any significant factual questions unanswered."

Google is not disputing the fine, however.

It reiterated that the anonymous engineer working at the Chocolate Factory had invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In other words, the unidentified coder was able to keep schtum.

Congressman Edward Markey has called on Capitol Hill to hold a hearing over Google's Street View.

"The FCC was correct to fine Google for this breach and to cite the company's recalcitrance in providing timely and comprehensive information in support of the Commission's investigation," he said in a statement that followed the penalty being slapped on Larry Page's company.

"However, I am concerned that more needs to be done to fully investigate the company's understanding of what happened when consumer data was collected without their knowledge or permission.

"This fine is a mere slap on the wrist for Google. Coupled with the company's recent changes to its privacy policy, it seems as if Google is making a U-turn in its commitment to protect consumer privacy as embodied in its settlement with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission]."

In Europe, the Street View data slurp snafu has been handled differently by regulators.

In August last year UK data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) reversed its decision about Google's Street View technology. It had been a different story in November 2010 when the ICO concluded that Mountain View had breached the Data Protection Act.

In a screeching U-turn, the body later audited the world's largest ad broker and said it was satisfied with Google's privacy procedure.

There has been much tougher action against Google's fleet of Street View vehicles elsewhere in Europe. Germany, for example, ordered Google to altogether withdraw its Street View fleet from the country.

As for the unmasked Street View engineer, it's relatively easy to find details – via Google search, naturally – about which names were associated with that project for Mountain View between 2007 and 2010. We'll spare them their blushes here, though. ®

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