The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a fine of $25,000 against Internet search giant Google for its failure to comply with Commission requests for documents and information related to the company’s collection of personal user data as part of its Street View project.
According to a Notice of Apparent Liability issued in April 2012, Google collected data from Wi-Fi networks in the U.S. and around the world between May 2007 and May 2010 for the purpose of supporting its location-based user services. However, in addition to collecting necessary location data, Google also reportedly collected so-called payload data, including email, text messages, passwords, Internet usage history and other personal information not required for the location database project.
When initially questioned in early 2010 by European authorities investigating the company’s data collection procedures, Google reportedly denied that it had collected payload data as part of the project. Nevertheless, by October 2010, Google publically acknowledged that “in some instances, entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.” As a result, the FCC Enforcement Bureau launched an official investigation into Google’s data collection activities in November 2010.
Based on its investigation, the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau decided not to pursue enforcement action against the company for its collection of payload data, noting that there did not exist a clear precedent for applying provisions of the Communications Act to Wi-Fi communications. Further, as noted in the Commission’s Notice, a key witness in the case employed by Google asserted his constitutional right not to provide testimony to the Enforcement Bureau, thereby preventing the thorough investigation of a number of factual questions related to the company’s data collection efforts.
However, according to the Commission, “Google deliberately impeded and delayed the Commission’s investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses…(and) apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents the Commission required for its investigation.” On that basis, the Commission has proposed a $25,000 forfeiture for Google’s noncompliance with the Enforcement Bureau’s information and document requests.
Read the complete text of the Commission’s Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture against Google.