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Google Engineer Knew About Street View WiFi Data Scoop: FCC Report

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Considering the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) findings in its two-year-long Street View data collection investigation, the $25,000 it recently fined Google may be a mere slap on the wrist.

While the company has claimed that its Street View cars "mistakenly" collected payload data, or the content of personal Internet communications, because of code developed by one employee, an April 13 FCC report shows that more than one Google employee had known about the payload data collection all along and simply did not act against it.

The report shows that the unnamed software engineer who had developed data collection code for the Street View project, dubbed "Engineer Doe," had made it clear in October 2006 emails to a Street View project senior manager and project leaders that the code would collect and store personal payload data, which included email and text messages, passwords, Internet usage history, and other personal information.

In addition, the FCC found that the project's leaders had forwarded Engineer Doe's email to the rest of the Street View team. With this knowledge, the Street View team collected approximately 200 gigabytes of payload data from January 2008 to April 2010 in the U.S. alone, according to the report.

Google's original intention in collecting WiFi data with radio antennae attached to its Street View cars was to help it establish the locations of its users as well as allow it to create maps of wireless access points that it could later use in location-based services. However, according to the 25-page report, Engineer Doe had thought the payload data "might prove useful for other Google services" and so had developed code that would capture both regular WiFi data and payload data.

The Google employee has since been subpoenaed by the FCC, which has chosen not to take action against the company because it still has "significant factual questions" that haven't been answered, reports the Associated Press. Unfortunately, Engineer Doe has declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

First released to the The Los Angeles Times by Google and made available online by the Sydney Morning Herald, the report was the result of the FCC's investigation of the company following concerns raised by European data protection authorities in early 2010 and Google's confession that it had "mistakenly" collected payload data later that same year.

Despite its admissions and the FCC's findings, Google still maintains that it did not break the law in any way.

"We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals," Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in an emailed statementto The Los Angeles Times. "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."

However, the company did end up agreeing to pay the FCC's $25,000 fine last week.

"In promising to pay the bureau's penalty, the company has rightly admitted wrongdoing," FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun told the Associated Press in response to Google's agreement.

UPDATE: The unnamed software engineer who developed the payload data-collecting code for Google's Street View project may have been identified, reports The New York Times. A former state investigator involved in a different Street View inquiry told The New York Times that the FCC's "Engineer Doe" is Marius Milner, a programmer who joined Google in 2003, several years before Street View cars began collecting WiFi data around the world in 2007.

What do you think about the FCC's findings? How do you feel about Google's response? Let us know in the comments!

[Hat Tip: Sydney Morning Herald]

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