FCC proposes fine for Google Wi-Fi snooping case 'obstruction'

FCC proposes fine for Google Wi-Fi snooping case 'obstruction'

Summary: The U.S. FCC has proposed a $25,000 fine after Google "impeded and delayed" an investigation into collecting wireless payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.


The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $25,000 fine against Google for "deliberately impeded and delayed" an ongoing investigation into whether it breached federal laws over its street-mapping service, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The FCC initiated an investigation in 2010 after Google collected and stored payload data from unencrypted wireless networks as part of its Google Maps Street View service. Its intended use, Google says, was to build up a list of Wi-Fi network hotspots to aid geolocation services on mobile devices through 'assisted-GPS'.

The U.S. followed suit after many European countries, including Germany, which has some of the strictest data protection and privacy laws in the world. But the European nation went one step further and told Google to withdraw its Street View cars from the country altogether.

Google also drew fire from the UK's data protection agency after it was told it committed a "significant breach" of the UK and European data laws when it collected wireless data from home networks. It was audited by the regulator and was told it "must do more" to improve its privacy policies. Google said it had taken "reasonable steps" to further protect the data of its users and customers.

But the FCC stopped short of accusing Google of directly violating data interception and wiretapping laws, citing lack of evidence. The federal communications authority did not fine the company under eavesdropping laws, as there is no set precedent for applying the law against 'fair-game' unencrypted networks.

The FCC took the action after it believed Google was reluctant to co-operate with the authorities after the scandal emerged. An FCC statement added that a Google engineer thought to have written the code that collected the data invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to prevent self-incrimination.

Google can appeal the fine. Despite the fine being a mere fraction of the company's U.S. annual turnover, not doing so until its legal avenues are exhausted would almost be an admittance of guilt.

The search giant eventually offered an opt-out mechanism for its location database by adding text to the networks' router name. But further controversy was drawn after another Silicon Valley company offered an opt-out only solution.

Facebook also drew fire from the regulators after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission allowed the social networking giant to settle, allowing users to opt-in to its sharing privacy settings, rather than opting-out; seen as a major win for U.S. users' privacy on the site.

Image credit: CBS Interactive.


Topics: Wi-Fi, Google, Government, Government US

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  • Seriously?? $25k for violating federal snooping laws??

    Regardless of what cheap excuse Google gave, the fact is that they were purposely violating federal law when they went out snooping people's wifi signals and recording the data.

    A $25k fine is completely ridiculous for doing something that even law enforcement is prevented from doing without legal backing.
    • I agree. a 25,000 dollar fine for a company that counts it revenue

      in the billions is like giving you and I a 5 cent parking ticket.

      Tim Cook
    • The fine isn't for the snooping...

      The fine is for obstructing the investigation. They didn't press charges for the snooping because they weren't sure how to apply the law (since the networks that were snooped were unencrypted).
      Third of Five
      • You do understand that RECORDING any private data

        is a violation of federal law? They had no business recording data. If they were checking for "hot spots" as they claimed, they would just record a "true" or "false" for open access every 100 meters and not actual data being transmitted.

        Just because a house has an open door does not mean that you are allowed to walk-in and grab whatever you want from it.

        The reason they didn't get a fine is because they are one of the top companies tunneling money to the political campaign for Obama.
  • Misprint in the fines notice?

    Where are the the other four zeroes, before the decimal point, in the fines notice?
    • Misprint

      ya really what a pathetic fine. I bet that will scare them not to do it again lol
  • the big gov. should stop tormenting Google!

    only the people have the final say, not some bureaucrats!
    LlNUX Geek
  • Modern legal mumbo-jumbo

    "as there is no set precedent for applying the law"

    What this means is, they couldn't get away with making stuff up like they wanted to do, like far too many legal decisions lately...
    Tony Burzio
  • unsecured

    If you transmit un-encrypted radio signals, then I can legally record them. If you transmit WiFi in the clear then it seems someone can legally record them. Secure your stuff people. No, it is not the same as you don't lock your house then someone can come in and look around but they can drive by and take a photo from the street. That law needs some work or the lawyers will take it apart.
    • Intercept (maybe), but not divulge

      Section 705 of the Communications Act -- "Unauthorized publication of communications" -- is about _divulging_ what you intercept. Merely intercepting (and optionally recording) such a transmission is not the issue (except in jurisdictions where these activities are prohibited by other law.) Nor does whether the intercepted communications are "in the clear" or encrypted matter. Divulging the existence and/or content of communications protected under Section 705, of which leveraging to your benefit what you intercept of protected communications is a prohibited subtype, is the issue. To start learning about this, see FCC's page at http://www.fcc.gov/guides/interception-and-divulgence-radio-communications .
      • Actually it is the RECORDING of the data that is ILLEGAL

        You can receive the unencrypted data. But you can't legally record it.

        And in the case of Google, they were recording ALL data, encrypted and unencrypted without any legal backing.
    • unsecured

      Your forgetting one very big detail 99% have ZERO clue they are broadcasting or allowing others to use the connection as well. Yes people need to be educated but they don't need to be abused by those who DO KNOW BETTER.
  • The fine is not for snooping peoples' wifi

    It is for obstructing the investigation.
  • Google snooping?

    Of course Google get away with a BS fine.... $25K for a company worth BILLIONS?
    The FCC says we investigated then fined the company to appease certain groups/persons..

    They are doing the Govt's dirty work for them??

    By Google collecting the data the Governments hands are clean of violating any anti-spying,anti-ease-dropping,anti-data collections laws the CIA, NSA, FBI,etc... have to abide by!!!