Google releases FCC report on engineer who collected personal information

Posted May 01, 2012, at 6:06 a.m.
Google was cleared of illegally gathering location-based software from residential and business WiFi networks.
Google was cleared of illegally gathering location-based software from residential and business WiFi networks.

A Google engineer knowingly created software that would collect sensitive personal information about people without their knowledge, according to an unredacted version of a federal investigative report.

In a full version of a Federal Communications Commission report, an engineer is said to have shared e-mails with other Google officials indicating that the company could collect “payload data,” including e-mail addresses and text messages through a program to gather location-based software from residential and business WiFi networks. Except for the names of its employees, the company released the full contents of the report, which the FCC had redacted heavily.

The agency’s report concluded that the company’s actions do not violate FCC or federal eavesdropping rules. The agency recently fined the company $25,000, however, for being uncooperative in a two-years-long investigation. A separate investigation by the Federal Trade Commission resulted in no fines and was closed in 2010.

With both investigations closed, Google released the full report by the FCC upon the request of reporters. The report showed that an engineer, identified as “Engineer Doe,” appeared to conceive of the WiFi collection software to gather sensitive information that he thought might be useful to the firm for other services.

“We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals,” a Google spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement. “While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC’s conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us.”

Contrary to public remarks, the report showed that Google officials were aware of the collection of payload data as its crews of Street View cars roamed the world for its mapping and location-based services.

“On at least two occasions Engineer Doe specifically informed colleagues that Street View cars were collecting payload data,” the FCC report said.

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