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Google releases 'Spy-Fi' report after FOIA request to FCC

An Article by Electronic Privacy Information Center

Shortly after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission for the unredacted version of the FCC’s report on Google Spy-Fi, Google has released a mostly unredacted version of the report.

In May 2007, as part of Google’s initial collection of Street View data, Google deployed special vehicles, equipped with digital cameras and other devices, to capture images in designated locations in 30 countries worldwide. Using hidden Internet receivers, Google “Street View vehicles” also collected a vast amount of data from users of private home and business Wi-Fi networks. Google simultaneously collected MAC addresses (the unique device ID for Wi-Fi hotspots), network SSIDs (user-assigned network ID names) tied to location information for private wireless networks, and Wi-Fi “payload” data, which included emails, passwords, usernames and website URLs.

On April 13, the FCC released a highly redacted version of this report, which the agency believed concluded the investigation into the Google Spy-Fi matter. EPIC almost immediately filed a FOIA request, and Google released the unredacted document on April 28.

The Federal Communications Commission’s original version of the report withheld many relevant details about Google’s interception of Wi-Fi data. The report’s new, unredacted version belies Google’s prior statements that a “rogue engineer” was responsible for the payload data collection. Instead, it indicates that Google intentionally designed the Street View code to intercept payload data for business purposes. The report also reveals that many supervisors and engineers within Google reviewed the code and the design documents associated with the project, and disregarded potential privacy issues even when flagged by engineers.

EPIC continues to press for more details regarding Google’s interception of Wi-Fi data by seeking several categories of related documents from the FCC, as well as documents related to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Google Street View.

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