Google fires back at privacy probe

Reported by AAP
Friday, April 27, 2012

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After being spanked by the Federal Communications Commission, Google is scolding the US agency for its handling of a recently concluded investigation into the company's collection of emails, passwords and other personal information transmitted over wireless networks.

The rebuke came in a letter on Thursday that disputed the FCC's reasons for fining Google Inc $US25,000 earlier this month.

Despite its misgivings, the company isn't trying to overturn the fine. The 14-page letter instead tried to debunk the idea that Google did anything wrong - a high priority for a company whose motto is "Don't Be Evil".

The FCC contends Google "deliberately impeded and delayed" a privacy probe focused on the company's collection of sensitive data sent through unsecured wi-fi systems while photographing for the Street View feature on its online mapping service.

In its letter, Google argues that the 17-month inquiry would have gone much more quickly if the FCC hadn't dawdled so much. The FCC's delays were so frequent and lengthy, according to Google, that the agency's legal window for completing the investigation would have closed if the company hadn't agreed to a seven-month extension.

"That is hardly the act of a party stonewalling an investigation," Google lawyer E. Ashton Johnston wrote in the letter to P Michele Ellison, the chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau.

"Rather, it is a demonstration of Google's interest in co-operating and allowing the FCC time to conduct a thorough investigation."

FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said the agency stands behind the work of its staff.

"In promising to pay the bureau's penalty, the company has rightly admitted wrongdoing," Sun said of Google.

As Google wrangled with the FCC, another regulator took a significant step in a broader investigation into allegations that the company has been abusing its dominance of internet search to stifle competition and drive up online advertising prices.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) signalled that its year-old probe is deepening by hiring an outside lawyer, former US Justice Department prosecutor Beth Wilkinson, to look into Google's business practices. The FTC stressed that Wilkinson's hiring should not be interpreted as a sign that it intends to crack down on Google.

In its notice about the Street View case, the FCC said it still had significant questions about Google's data collection on wi-fi systems because it couldn't get all the answers it wanted from the company.

Google also revealed for the first time that it had co-operated with a US Justice Department inquiry into Street View's collection of wi-fi data. The Justice Department took no action against Google, the letter said. The Federal Trade Commission also investigated the Street View data-gathering and didn't penalise Google.

By accepting the FCC's fine, Google also closed that agency's investigation.

Google has consistently maintained that its collection of personal information on wi-fi networks wasn't illegal, although it wasn't something the company intended to do when it sent out camera-bearing cars to cruise neighbourhoods.

The company attributed the information-gathering to a program that an overzealous engineer installed to help plot the location of the pictures.

The FCC says it subpoenaed an unidentified Google engineer as part of its investigation, but the employee invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against incriminating himself.

25/07/2014 23:41Sydney, Australia. 25 July,2014
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