The US telecoms regulator has fined Google $25,000 for obstructing its investigation into the collection of private data by the company's Street View vehicles, although it has dropped the overall case.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Friday that Google had repeatedly ignored requests for documents and information relating to the investigation, which was launched in 2010 after it emerged that the Street View cars were harvesting entire emails, URLs and passwords from people's Wi-Fi connections as they drove by.
"For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the [Enforcement] Bureau's investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses," the FCC said in a report.
"Based on our review of the facts and circumstances before us, we find that Google, which holds Commission licences, is apparently liable for a forfeiture penalty of $25,000 [£15,800] for its non-compliance with Bureau information and document requests," the report added.
As well as photographing neighbourhoods, it became apparent in 2010 that Google's Street View cars were also collecting data from people's Wi-Fi routers. The purpose of this exercise was supposedly that Google could improve the location database that helps Android and desktop users find where they are, so Google's services could be better targeted.
However, first it came out that the systems in the cars were also collecting fragments of the data being transmitted over the Wi-Fi networks, then that entire emails and passwords were in some cases being collected.
For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the [Enforcement] Bureau's investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information.– FCC
Google said this data collection was a mistake that was down to rogue code implemented by an unnamed engineer.
The FCC dropped its case against Google for two reasons. Firstly, the engineer at the centre of the case refused to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. The FCC also decided that there was "no clear precedent" for applying existing radio interception laws to the Wi-Fi communications that were involved in the Street View case.
"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," a Google spokesperson was quoted by AFP as saying in response to the report.