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Google Seen as Getting 'Slap on the Wrist' From FCC After Probe Into Privacy Debacle

Friday, April 20, 2012
FCC Weighs In on Google Privacy Case

 

Key Development:The FCC assesses a $25,000 fine against Google for impeding a privacy investigation but concludes that there are otherwise no grounds for an enforcement action.

Potential Impact: Members of Congress are concerned that Google received a mere slap on the wrist.

Next Steps: Google says that it disagrees with the characterization that it was uncooperative and will be filing a response with the FCC.

By Alexei Alexis

Members of Congress have raised concerns that the Federal Communications Commission did not go far enough in its recent decision against Google Inc., following an investigation into privacy concerns surrounding the firm's “Street View” mapping project.

While assessing a $25,000 fine against Google for “deliberately impeding” the probe, the FCC said it otherwise could find no grounds in the case for taking action against the company.

“I am troubled by the FCC's decision to decline enforcement in the Google Street View case, particularly considering the agency's conclusion that Google initially impeded the agency's attempts to conduct a full investigation,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said April 16 in an emailed statement.

Blumenthal said that Google's interception and collection of private wireless data potentially violates the Wiretap Act or other federal statutes. He said the matter should be “fully investigated” by the Justice Department and state attorneys general.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a co-chair of the bipartisan House Privacy Caucus, said the FCC fine represented a “mere slap on the wrist” for Google.

“Coupled with the company's recent changes to its privacy policy, it seems as if Google is making a U-turn in its commitment to protect consumer privacy,” Markey said in an April 15 statement, adding that he will continue to monitor the situation.


Google Denies Impeding Investigation
A Google spokeswoman said the firm disagrees with the characterization that it failed to cooperate with the FCC investigation and will be filing a response.

In a quietly published “apparent notice of liability,” the FCC said that Google “deliberately impeded and delayed” the agency's Street View investigation, launched in November 2010, by failing to provide requested documents. The company's alleged infractions included delaying its production of emails and other communications.

“Google's level of cooperation with this investigation fell well short of what we expect and require,” the commission said in the notice, which was dated April 13.

Ultimately, however, the agency said it could find no evidence that Google broke the law when it committed Street View data-collection missteps that sparked international outrage.

In 2010, it was revealed that Google intercepted individuals' private internet communications in the process of gathering data from Wi-Fi networks across the globe for the Street View mapping project. The incident prompted a flurry of investigations in the United States and other countries.

Google has apologized for the debacle, calling it an error.

The Federal Trade Commission dropped an investigation into the matter in October 2010, citing privacy commitments from Google.


The FCC notice is available at /uploadedFiles/Content/News/Legal_and_Business/Bloomberg_Law/Legal_Reports/CYBER-The-Cybersecurity-Act-of-2012-final1(1).pdf

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