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FCC Wants To Fine Google $25K For WiFi Investigation 145

Posted by samzenpus
from the dragging-your-feet dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It's good and bad news for Google. The FCC has ruled that Google did nothing wrong when it accidentally collected WiFi data with its Street View cars: '[The FCC] concluded that there was no precedent for the commissions' enforcement of the law in connection with WiFi networks. The FCC also noted that, according to the available evidence, Google only collected data from unencrypted WiFi networks, not encrypted ones, and that it never accessed or used the data.' However, they want to fine the company $25,000 because it 'deliberately impeded and delayed the investigation.'"
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FCC Wants To Fine Google $25K For WiFi Investigation

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  • Also known as (Score:4, Informative)

    by bobwrit (1232148) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:35PM (#39694601) Homepage Journal
    "Hey, our budget could very well get cut soon. Let's fine people for things!" That's what I suspect the FCC's reasoning is. They just wont admit it.
    • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:37PM (#39694621)
      Well, you know, seeing as how impeding an official investigation is actually something you can be charged and convicted of in a criminal investigation, it seems only fair that it should be a finable offense in an investigation such as this.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        how can you impede something that you are innocent of ?

        Isn't that the equivalent of saying - "I did not do it" and continuing to protest such ?

        • Re:Also known as (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:43PM (#39694667)

          You can delay the proceedings by not providing information in a timely manner.

        • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Insightful)

          by divide overflow (599608) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:54PM (#39694719)

          how can you impede something that you are innocent of ?

          Isn't that the equivalent of saying - "I did not do it" and continuing to protest such ?

          No, because the delay was separate from their declaration of innocence. They impeded the government's investigation by not providing the court subpoenaed information relevant to the investigation in a timely manner. When investigations go on longer than necessary it increases the workload for the investigators and their assistants and results in increased the costs to the taxpayer.

          • by Anonymous Coward
            They should use an operating system with a better scheduler. When one investigation is blocked, they work on one that isn't.
          • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mysidia (191772) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:55PM (#39695147)

            When investigations go on longer than necessary it increases the workload for the investigators and their assistants and results in increased the costs to the taxpayer.

            It seems they requested information that took Google a few months to produce. Google did not provide emails that the FCC requested or identify the engineer who authorized the data collection

            It doesn't seem that apparent that Google was attempting to delay the investigation. If the FCC requests a company produce all e-mails that meet a certain criteria, that can be a huge burden for IT that may inherently take many man hours, and they have to be certain that what is produced is complete, before sending anything -- or be at risk of being accused of attempting to conceal or failing to comply with the order to produce.

            As for reporting on 'which engineer authorized the data collection'; that may be a rather complicated matter as well -- the various entities involved need to complete their finger pointing and internal investigations and review of internal records to figure out who actually did what.
            That would be even more complicated if no engineer specifically authorized the data collection, but hey...

            A 2 or 3 month delay begins to sound quite plausible, and not unreasonable. It could very well be innocent ineptitude, poor management, or inefficiency in doing the work to satisfy unusual requests, to draw matters out further, it's not necessary to conclude malice.

            Without specific evidence of intentional delay, there's no basis for a fine.

        • by Gonoff (88518)

          You cannot be guilty (or innocent) of an investigation. You might be innocent of the charge but that is not the question. Did they impede an official investigation?

          What would happen if someone saw the police taking pictures and measuring stuff (an investiagtion) and went over and delibarately got in their way because they are an idiot?
          They would be liable to be arrested even though they had nothing to do with what was being investigated. They were impeding an official investigation.

          Why should Google be

        • by Warhawke (1312723)
          It's a little more than that. You can impede the investigation into something you are innocent of by denying access to evidence that would either prove that you are innocent (or guilty.) In this case, the FCC is saying that Google wouldn't turn over e-mail evidence or the name of the engineer who authorized the data collection process. If Pops thinks Timmy broke the neighbor's window, Timmy is going to get in trouble when he doesn't let Dad into his closet to see if the baseball's still there. Pretty mu
        • How can you accidentally collect WiFi data?
      • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anarchduke (1551707) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:50PM (#39694695)
        Actually, I think this is a violation of Google's 5th amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. I know that we've never applied the 5th amendment to corporations before, but if you think about the Citizen's United ruling, the Supreme Court has already said that corporations are people and enjoy 1st amendment rights. Why couldn't they enjoy 5th amendment rights as well?
        In fact, I would enjoy seeing a corporation take a case like this to the Supreme Court and say, "I am legally a person and so the blah blah blah law shouldn't apply to me because it is a violation of my Nth amendment rights as a person.
        • In fact, I would enjoy seeing a corporation take a case like this to the Supreme Court and say, "I am legally a person and so the blah blah blah law shouldn't apply to me because it is a violation of my Nth amendment rights as a person.

          Great...another opportunity for the Supreme Court to FURTHER expand on the insanity of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision. Like my mom says: "We need that like a hole in the head."

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by LandDolphin (1202876)
            Well, you do need a few holes in the head for breathing and eating and such.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              Well, you do need a few holes in the head for breathing and eating and such.

              And who would know better than LandDolphin?

          • by million_monkeys (2480792) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:37PM (#39695029)

            In fact, I would enjoy seeing a corporation take a case like this to the Supreme Court and say, "I am legally a person and so the blah blah blah law shouldn't apply to me because it is a violation of my Nth amendment rights as a person.

            Great...another opportunity for the Supreme Court to FURTHER expand on the insanity of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision. Like my mom says: "We need that like a hole in the head."

            Without context, I don't know how to interpret that quote. Does your mom suffer from intercranial bleeding? Because in that case, a hole in the head might save her life.

            • Without context, I don't know how to interpret that quote. Does your mom suffer from intercranial bleeding? Because in that case, a hole in the head might save her life.

              So many talented doctors here on Slashdot.... <grin>

              • by gomiam (587421)
                Having a siamese mother (intercranial, not intracraneal, meaning there are at least two craniums involved) is an interesting case, hole or no hole.
            • by FunkDup (995643)
              Not to mention some other holes in that appendage. I've found my mouth to be rather useful, for example.
        • by detritus. (46421)

          The FCC can fine people and corporations for using obscene language over the air, which technically violates the First Amendment.
          I think it may boil down to, "All your airwaves are belong to us."

        • by mysidia (191772)

          Actually, I think this is a violation of Google's 5th amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

          They aren't asking Google to testify in court, so no, it's not self-incrimination, it's production of records. Also, Google is being charged with violations of regulations, which is more of a "civil" matter. The managers aren't at risk of going to jail over this; this isn't like a wire fraud allegation.

          If you keep a personal diary, and in it you describe your crimes; the contents of your diary can be u

        • ... if you think about the Citizen's United ruling, the Supreme Court has already said that corporations are people and enjoy 1st amendment rights ...

          The Citizens United ruling did not say that corporations are people. That was how an opponent of the decision characterized the ruling. In other words it was highly successful political spin.

          IIRC what the Supreme Court actually said was that people, whether as individuals or as part of a group (activist organization, trade union, corporation, etc) have first amendment rights. They also said that a corporation that owns newspapers and TV stations does not enjoy any extra privileges compared to other corp

        • by mrmeval (662166)

          If they're legally a person can we legally execute them when convicted of murder? The whole corporation since when a person dies all the cells that contributed die except where organs are harvested. What a bonanza for the organ donation business.

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            Only if they're in one of the 34 states that execute people. And most corporate deaths are negligent homicide, which I don't think is a capitaol offense in any state.

            • by mrmeval (662166)

              Lets let the jury decide what degree. I think we should get that voted on right away.

        • Perhaps, but it's probably not worth defending if it's only to save $25k

        • by pedrop357 (681672) *

          If corporations didn't have rights, does that mean the government would be free to send the police in and search their premises at will? How about seize all their belongings and the contents of their bank accounts whenever they felt like it? Could corporations be subjected to trial without jury or representation in a kangaroo court?

          Corporations having rights means that the people who comprise that corporation don't lose their rights because of how they choose to associate.

        • by Burning1 (204959)

          An individual doesn't have the right to refuse a court ordered sopena either.

      • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sribe (304414) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:19PM (#39694883)

        Well, yes, but. What did google do to "impede" the investigation??? What I recall is that google resisted handing over other people's information to a federal agency that was claiming that collecting that information was a privacy breach--in other words, google was trying to mitigate the damage, if any, done to people, based on the theory that if it really was a privacy breach to collect the information, it would be more of a privacy breach to disseminate it. I seem to recall google offering to answer lots of questions about the type of info, but only resisting turning it over en masse.

        Let's face it: "hey collecting that data was a huge privacy breach, now hand it over to us" is really not a reasonable stance ;-)

        • by sribe (304414)

          Oh great, now I'm getting modded up after I remember that it was the German authorities, not the FCC, who were simultaneously describing the data as private and demanding that it all be handed over. The issue with the FCC may be entirely different.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Kudos to Google for dragging their feet.

        All the feds ever wanted was to use the wifi "hack" as an excuse for a data grab without the inconvenience of a search warrant.

    • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:43PM (#39694665)

      Given that the FCC's budget is somewhere around $350 million, levying fines of $0.025 million doesn't seem like a plausible funding strategy. That's just noise to both the FCC and Google's budgets. Imo it's more likely that it's just a symbolic fine.

      • Re:Also known as (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cgenman (325138) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:23PM (#39694915) Homepage

        It seems like the sort of fine that would get on the record that Google was being uncooperative. In the future, the FCC can use this to convince judges of larger fines or stronger enforcement provisions to convince Google to live up to its data release requirements.

        • by Xtifr (1323)

          Or it will encourage Google to be more cooperative next time, so there won't need to be a fine.

          Once, when I was about ten, my mom gave me a light smack on the behind for staying out till midnight without letting her know where I was or what I was doing. Clearly, by your logic, she was just setting me up for arbitrary unjustified beatings later.

          • by Rogerborg (306625)
            So, this paddling from your mom that you're clearly obsessed with... how much did you enjoy it, on a scale from "semi'ed" to "spanked off to it every night since"?

            Sometimes the post really is all about you.

            • by Xtifr (1323)

              Well, to be honest, it wasn't the spanking itself that was so memorable; it was the fact that she felt she had to dress up in a skin-tight black leather catsuit with high heels to administer it. Similar to the way that OP felt he had to dress up this relatively trivial fine with dirty robes, a tinfoil hat, and a sandwich board proclaiming "REPENT NOW! The End Is Near!"

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Spot on. That's a "respect my authority" fine, suggested by some midlevel bureaucrat who was offended by Google's ridiculous failure to instantly comply with their every whim (aka impeding investigation) . Let it be known to all, we 're not going to tolerate that kinds uppittyness from the rabble! Fine them, just because we can.

        • I believe in questioning authority up until a certain point, and that point is reached when I am the authority. I say fine them for every incident 25K is a big fat nothing if it stands alone up against a corporate infrastructure with billions in the bank. I also disagree with the "_nomap [searchengineland.com]" angle we shouldn't have to be forced to append _nomap to our SSID's. Instead Google should make it opt in... those who wish to be mapped can append _MapMe to their SSID if they so choose, it would only be fair.
          • by tjhart85 (1840452)
            How do you figure? You're already broadcasting it into a public space, I would make the argument that you've already opted into people using the data however they want. If you then choose to opt out even though you've given your information out to the world, then they've given you a way to do so.

            As long as the person doesn't attempt to hack into your computer network (which brakes another set of laws), they should be able to use the SSID data however they want. Afterall, you can hide the SSID (which d
      • Could also be part of a push to strengthen the FCC, by pointing out to Congress that they need larger sanctions. I.e. they could be doing this to prep for congressional testimony for the next time there's a Communications Act amendment.

    • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Insightful)

      by divide overflow (599608) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:03PM (#39694783)

      "Hey, our budget could very well get cut soon. Let's fine people for things!" That's what I suspect the FCC's reasoning is. They just wont admit it.

      That makes no sense. $25k is nothing to either Google OR the FCC and wouldn't impress any legislator responsible for approving FCC budgets. The fines probably go into some general government pool that wouldn't affect their resources.

      What makes more sense is the FCC did this to give other corporations the message that they need to come clean about what they've done and not drag their feet providing subpoenaed information.

    • Re:Also known as (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:05PM (#39694789) Homepage

      Jeez, when I want to get to work a little faster, I'm risking a fine that's equivalent to several hours of pay, and I only get paid 2000 hours a year... Google gives federal investigators a hard time and they only propose to fine them about 3 seconds [yahoo.com] of gross profit?

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Jeez, when I want to get to work a little faster, I'm risking a fine that's equivalent to several hours of pay, and I only get paid 2000 hours a year... Google gives federal investigators a hard time and they only propose to fine them about

        I think you're missing that there is no connection between fine amounts and your rate of pay. Fines are a shot across the bow; "shape up, or else".

        You too as an individual can give federal investigators a hard time and only get a $25,000 fine, if you're lucky enough to

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        To be fair, when you're rushing to work because you're not disciplined enough to leave on time, you're endangering the lives of everyone on the highway. That's a little more important than how fast the FCC gets its requested data.

        You're not just risking a fine, you're risking your life, and everyone else's. Slow the fuck down, boy.

        • To be fair, I haven't had a "risking my life and everyone else's" ticket in decades, and just two B.S. revenue collection speed fines in the last 15 years... no collisions for longer, no collisions with injury ever. Actually, most of those "risking my life" roadside lectures from way back didn't involve a ticket or a fine, I guess the paperwork is hell.

          The concern for Google dragging their feet is not about FCC being bored while waiting for the requested data, the concern is whether or not they are trying

    • Given that all fines and fees collected bu the US Government go into a common fund (subsequently spent by Congress), and not by the agency collecting them... As the person above said, with regards to their budget, I doubt this is a motive.

      But, as with the budget, don't let facts stand in your way.

    • This is a relative slap on the wrist. This is more of a "You made us have to put in extra work on this issue by you playing PR games. Here is how much that time you cost us." than a true fine.

    • "Hey, our budget could very well get cut soon. Let's fine people for things!" That's what I suspect the FCC's reasoning is. They just wont admit it.

      Really? $25,000? do you have any idea how little $25,000 is in the realm of government budgets? It's less than if you drop a penny down the sewer grate.

      Whatever the reason is, it's certainly not because of (perceived or real) budget cutting.

  • How are they ever going to scrape together $25k? Damn these regulators!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      it is the precedent of the thing, not the amount. If you are simply charged with a crime, then have to foot the bill for the investigation even when found not guilty. Sounds like an awesome way to extort or intimidate someone, especially smaller companies that might not be able to foot a lengthy investigation bill.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's kind of the bureacracy-and-corp version of being arrested on charges of "resisting arrest".

  • According to this [incomediary.com] google lost less than 41sec of revenue with this fine...
  • by dryriver (1010635) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:48PM (#39694685)
    When queried by multiple governments (incl. France) why Google's Streetview Cars seem to drive around cities collecting all sorts of private data on people's personal/home Wifi setups (like username:password), Google's apparent explanation/excuse was that the collection of Wifi data was "completely accidental", and a "the result of a mistake made by one engineer". The story then gets all weird, because Google refused to hand over requested internal emails to aid the investigation, and also refused to give up the name of the "one engineer" who supposedly "OK'd the Wifi sniffing". The real story seems to be that Google once again "went way too far" in trying to collect "useful data", then made up a seriously silly excuse about some engineer making a "mistake", and personal Wifi data being collected as a result. (How on earth does a "mistake" enable a StreetView Car to suddenly collect detailed Wifi hotspot data? Wouldn't the car need to be purposely equipped with software and antennas capable of this, and also explicitly configured to do so?)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:01PM (#39694769)

      It's actually a quite understandable mistake: "Gee, sending these cars around is expensive. We just want MAC info for geolocation, but what if we screw something up? If we have to revisit an area I'll get yelled at...best to just log everything and filter it out later"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How on earth does a "mistake" enable a StreetView Car to suddenly collect detailed Wifi hotspot data? Wouldn't the car need to be purposely equipped with software and antennas capable of this, and also explicitly configured to do so?

      The car was already equipped with software and antennas, apparently for building a database of open Wifi hotspots. This was not the problem. It was the accidental collection of payload, in particular, unencrypted payload, which was the mistake (and the problem.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They did equip the cars with software and antennas to collect hotspot data. It was supposed to only collect basic data such as mac addresses and ssids (helpful for statistics and assisted geolocating), but it was mistakenly configured to also collect traffic from sniffing in promiscuous mode. I believe that it being an accident is perfectably reasonable.

      And I personally believe it shouldn't be wrong to do. Sure, it was data they couldn't use, but it /was/ broadcasted on public air waves.

      Also, no one would h

      • by cgenman (325138) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:34PM (#39695001) Homepage

        Wifi sniffing is what you have to do to get Mac Addresses and SSID's for Geolocation, as well as any sort of WiFi related work these days (Thanks, Dumb Bastards who turn off SSID broadcast!). At core, that's all Google was collecting, a basic WiFi sniff. I have to do it all the time if I want to figure out what jerk is invisibly camping the section of spectrum I'm using. And in classic Google fashion, they probably figured they could sort through and filter out the data they needed back at Google Central, rather than doing it in-car.

        Honestly, the most shocking thing is the public's ignorance of the technology they use every day.

        • by Solandri (704621)
          The funny thing is Apple basically did the same thing [slashdot.org], except they secretly used their customers' iPhones without the owner's consent nor permission to collect MAC address/SSID/GPS coordinates to build a geolocation map.

          Google made the mistake of doing The Right Thing - building the map completely on the company's dime, and publicly announcing what exactly they were doing. Then when they found they had collected wifi payload data as well, they reported themselves to the public [tmcnet.com] .

          Basically what's happ
  • by gstrickler (920733) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:48PM (#39694689)

    It's likely to be less costly than an appeal, and they can finally put it behind them.

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:10PM (#39694827)
    Assuming Google did engage in this supposed act then I think the fine is legitimate, and quite small. At the same time if this is just a way for somebody to cover their ass at the FCC for launching a dead-end investigation then it is totally bogus. Hard to know for sure with the info we have.
  • by BitterOak (537666) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @03:18PM (#39694871)
    Obviously Google is not going to fight a $25,000 fine. That's just pocket change to them. This is just the FCC trying to save face, so they can come away from this saying they did accomplish something, when in fact, they accomplished nothing but wasting time and energy.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Google will have a hard time paying this exorbitant fine.

  • Good for google

    All the feds wanted was to use the wifi incident as an excuse to get the data in question for themselves.

  • they want to fine the company $25,000 because it 'deliberately impeded and delayed the investigation.

    Translation:
    Google has so much cash we can fine them for anything and they will pay it.

  • Given how often people in my area seem to change their WiFi setups, I can't imagine that old information being particularly useful.

    Now call me naive, but aren't Google still collecting WiFi details with every Android phone?

    Someone recently told me that Android phones with GPS enabled will scan and report SSIDs and signal strengths of local WiFi networks so that non-GPS Android devices can be located through triangulation.

  • I wish I could fine the government for impeding and delaying all sorts of things that annoy me. DMV line moving too slowly? Bam! Fine those sloth-like paper pushers.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Monday April 16, 2012 @01:36AM (#39697951)

    I know no one read the story or the other articles with more details but here's the facts:

    The FCC found that Google's actions weren't illegal, nor were they intentional.

    The FCC found that after Google became aware of the problem they took extensive measures to not only notify about the breach, but to protect the information.

    The FCC found that as a result Google did nothing illegal and there was no case to be brought to the courts.

    The FCC obtained NO court order or subpoena's for the information they asked Google for.

    Google refused to provide information which they didn't feel was relevant to the investigation. This information included the names of the employees involved and what would have essentially amounted to the entire email server for Google.

    As this was NOT a subpoena they were under NO obligation to voluntarily supply information.

    The FCC is creating a charge of impeding the investigation when they found NO evidence of illegal behavior. This is no different than being charged for resisting arrest and that being the ONLY charge.

    This is one of the biggest problems we have with government right now. The FCC is FAR beyond their authority here. Not only that, they can't charge someone for impeding the investigation for refusing to comply with a voluntary request. Had they needed the information they could have gone to court and got a subpoena, that they didn't is prima facia evidence that they didn't think they could get the subpoena in the first place. We're at a place where people are being fined for exercising their rights and thats WRONG.

    I support sensible regulation and I don't think the FCC has enough regulatory power in some areas but this is the type of stuff that makes me want to see the government's powers gutted. Maybe that's what we need at this point, gut the system and start over. At a minimum at this point I'd like to see investigative powers greatly restricted, and most importantly of all, that certain charges (resisting arrest, impeding the investigation, etc) aren't valid if there is no other charge.

  • FCC should taken hard action against to Google.

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