FCC closes case on Google Wi-Fi snooping but charges $25K fine for obstruction

The Federal Communications Commission has slapped Google with a $25,000 fine for obstructing the agency’s efforts to find out more about Google’s data collection practices, according to the New York Times.

Google has been in the government’s sights for years when it comes to privacy concerns. Recently, Google attracted scrutiny for making sweeping changes to its privacy policies. But now the FCC is getting a tad more serious by actually making Google pay up. $25,000 is pocket change to Google, which cleared $10.6 billion in revenue this past quarter, but at least it’s a start.

The FCC said in a report (PDF) late on Friday that Google had “deliberately impeded and delayed” the agency’s investigation that started in May 2010 when Google “accidentally” collected personal data using its Street View cars. Essentially, Google’s cars that were sent out to improve Google Maps actually collected data from people’s unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Google has held on to this data since the time that it collected it, but said it was simply waiting for the go-ahead from the government to delete the data.

Instead of doing all it could to help the FCC investigate the claims, the FCC said Google gave the organization the run-around and failed to respond to many inquires. The FCC writes:

“For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the Bureau’s investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses. In the Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), we find that Google apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents that the Commission required for its investigation.”

The FCC took a sharp tone with Google, suggesting it had the technology and resources to easily comply with requests. “Although a world leader in digital search capability, Google took the position that searching its employees’ e-mail ‘would be a time-consuming and burdensome task,’” the report said.

Google, not surprisingly, says it did everything that was asked of it in the case.

“We worked in good faith to answer the FCC’s questions throughout the inquiry, and we are pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law,” a Google spokeswoman said in a widely circulated statement.

This will most likely be the end of the case concerning Google’s accidental snooping of Wi-Fi network data, but there’s no doubt the government will continue to examine the incredible depth of Google’s knowledge about its users.

Google photo: Robert Scoble/Flickr

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