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Google Hit With $25K Fine, But FCC Finds Street View Data Collection Not Illegal

At issue is the finding nearly two years ago that Google Street View cars had been collecting payload data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks

Google has been slapped with a $25,000 fine by the Federal Communications Commission for impeding the agency's investigation of some of the Internet search leader's data gathering practices -- a symbolic, but small penalty for a company worth $200 billion.

At issue is the finding nearly two years ago that Google Street View cars had been collecting payload data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks via code written for an experimental project.

Now the FCC, which has been looking into what happened with the data and why it was gathered in the first place, has ordered Google to open its big checkbook because the company "deliberately impeded and delayed" its investigation, reports The New York Times.

Google had said it was "profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data --including personal information such as passwords and emails -- from unencrypted networks."

The FCC was initially satisfied with that response, but the agency says over time Google has repeatedly not responded to requests for information, took the position that searching employees' emails would be burdensome and would not name the employees involved because doing so "would serve no useful purposes."

Even so, the FCC has decided Google's data collection was not illegal because the information the company gleaned was not encrypted. The FCC also said it could not find a clear precedent to take enforcement action on the data collection. Google, for its part, says it is happy the FCC concluded it complied with the law.

At the same time, if Google's uncooperative behavior is true as the FCC maintains, the obvious question is, "What is Google hiding?"

Consumers and advocacy groups have often criticized Google's seemingly insatiable appetite for personal information, such as its recent consolidation of its privacy policies so as to have a better view into user behaviors and preferences. Because of the amount of attention those privacy concerns have garnered, you'd think a policy of transparency on Google's part would bode well with those who have doubts about whether or not the company can be trusted with increasing amounts of personal data.

Even if Google's snooping was a mistake, and even if it had nothing to hide, a $25,000 fine for not cooperating with this investigation seems a bit small.

In comparison, European countries have responded quite differently.

As the Times points out, a year ago France fined Google €100,000, or about $140,000 at the time, for Street View privacy violations.

Follow Christina on Twitter and Google+ for even more tech news and commentary and follow Today@PCWorld on Twitter, too.


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