Google's WiFi Snooping: More Details Emerge

Dennis Faas's picture

A recent report concerning Google's unauthorized collection of data from wireless networks has raised new questions about the company's behavior. Curiously, though, Google itself has released the report.

Google had been accused of foul play after inadvertently collecting personal data from people's home WiFi networks. The problem stems from the company's vehicles which, busy taking photographs for its Street View maps system, also scanned for local networks.

The networks were to be part of a database intended to aid Google's navigational offerings to consumers.

A year-long investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded that Google had not broken any laws. All the information it collected was (technically) available to the public.

However, the commission fined Google $25,000 for failing to comply with the court's requests for information to aid in the investigation.

New Release Reveals More Details

The initial release of the report into the investigation was heavily censored, with large amounts of detail removed. Google has now released the entire document, with the only edits being the removal of named individuals. (Source:

Some experts believe the release of the less-redacted report may be part of Google's attempts to stave off a legal bid by privacy campaigners to get a completely unedited version of the document, including the names.

The most notable of the individuals concerned in the case is the engineer who wrote the code for logging the wireless networks. According to Google's original story, he failed to tell the company the code would collect the personal data it did.

Engineer's Document May Be Smoking Gun

The full report reveals the engineer did inform other staff that the code would collect WiFi data, and even provided colleagues with a document that detailed this functionality.

Later, the engineer refused to give evidence to the FCC during its investigation of the charges, pleading the fifth amendment.

According to this newer version of the report, some Google staff working on Street View claimed not to have seen the document, while others admit reading it but do not remember any mention of WiFi data collection.

It has also been revealed that the FCC believes an internal email proves Street View managers discussed the issue of data collection, thus proving they were aware of it.

However, according to the FCC, Google refused to hand over a copy of this internal email. (Source:

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