Google Street View WiFi Spying: UK Investigates

Dennis Faas's picture

Google's legal problems surrounding its unintentional gathering of personal data from home WiFi networks now seem likely to linger longer than previously expected.

After the publication of an internal email that some consider a 'smoking gun,' British authorities are reportedly near a decision to reopen their investigation of the search giant's activities.

The long-running case involves the vehicles carrying Google's roof-mounted cameras taking "Street View" photos for the company's map service. These vehicles housed computers that scanned for nearby wireless networks.

According to Google, the WiFi scanning was meant only to produce reference data to improve the accuracy of navigation tools, such as those on mobile phone apps.

However, documents showed the company had collected a huge amount of data from the scanning. In many cases, the information was unencrypted and contained personal information, such as email log-ins and even passwords.

As a result, Google has faced a variety of investigations related to the matter.

In the United States, the court ruled Google did not break any snooping laws, since it didn't actively hack into networks to capture the data, which was available to anyone within range of the WiFi networks.

However, Google did have to pay a fine for failing to cooperate fully with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigators.

British Officials Consider Google's Guilt Again

Now, officials in the United Kingdom say they've studied the FCC's full report and will review the evidence before considering further action.

Google has always maintained that its employees working on the Street View project were unaware of the massive data collection.

It claimed the relevant code to perform that data collection was the creation of a rogue engineer who had not told anyone else about the existence of that capability.

The FCC report shows the engineer had made others aware of the consequences of using the software, as follows:

"We are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they were doing... [this data could be] analysed off line for use in other initiatives." (Source:

Google Facing More Bad Publicity Over Street View

If British officials do take further action, Google is unlikely to face any criminal charges. Instead, the company is more likely to receive criticism for gathering the data without the owners' knowledge.

The biggest trouble is likely to be the public relations hit Google takes from renewed suggestions it misled both the public and investigators about how much it really knew. (Source:

Rate this article: 
No votes yet