Google continues to dodge questions on Street View private data collection

The New York Times reports: Google has long prided itself on not being a conventional company. But there is one characteristic it apparently shares with the most sclerotic bureaucracy: the willingness of its employees to say, “Not my job.”

The company on Tuesday released a trove of documents related to a federal investigation of its Street View mapping project. Although the project was intended to photograph the world’s streets, from 2007 to 2010 Google gathered unencrypted Internet data from wireless networks, including the content of private communications, as its specially equipped cars passed through neighborhoods.

Among the documents released Tuesday are sworn declarations by nine people — their names and titles redacted but most of whom appear to be Google engineers — who said they were not aware of the data collection either because it was not part of their job or they did not review the project documentation, even when it was provided to them.

Also Tuesday, Google confirmed that the Information Commissioner’s Office in Britain had reopened its investigation of the Street View project and had asked the company for additional information about the data it collected there.

In April, the Federal Communications Commission said Google had “deliberately impeded and delayed” its inquiry into the data collection and assessed the company a $25,000 fine. The documents released Tuesday were originally provided to the F.C.C. as part of its investigation into Street View. Employee names were redacted; in a few cases, nearly the entire document was blacked out.

While each of the employees who provided sworn declarations acknowledged participating in some aspect of Street View, nearly all said they first became aware that the company was collecting Internet data only when it was publicly reported in May 2010.

For example, one person whose job was to review the computer code that operated the data collection program said that while he checked syntax and debugged the code, he had “no recollection of reviewing the Wi-Fi project design document” and that “it was not part of my duties to do so.”

Another said, “I am aware there was a design document prepared for the Wi-Fi collection, but I do not recall reading it.”

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1 thought on “Google continues to dodge questions on Street View private data collection

  1. Yonatan

    $25,000 fine? Wow, that’s like fining John Doe two cents. This fine is gonna have Google quaking in its boots – quaking from laughter, that is.

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