Dem lawmakers: FCC fine on Google in Street View probe a ‘slap on the wrist’

Two Democrats said Google got off easy with a $25,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for allegedly stonewalling an investigation into its collection of user data from Wi-Fi networks.

"This fine is a mere slap on the wrist for Google," Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement late Sunday.

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called on the Justice Department and state attorneys general to conduct their own investigation into the case.

From 2007 to 2010, Google's Street View cars collected data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks as they drove through neighborhoods, collecting images for the Street View project. The data included passwords and other personal information.

Google said the data collection was inadvertent and that it never used the information.



The FCC was unable to conclude whether Google violated wiretapping laws, but proposed the fine because Google "deliberately impeded and delayed" the agency's investigation into the case.


In a report, the FCC said Google refused to hand over internal emails or identify employees. When questioned, one engineer invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to not testify.

"As the FCC notes in their report, we provided all the materials the regulators felt they needed to conclude their investigation and we were not found to have violated any laws," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. "We disagree with the FCC’s characterization of our cooperation in their investigation and will be filing a response."

But Markey said he wasn't satisfied with the investigation.

"Google's Street View cars drove right over consumers' personal privacy while cruising city streets and neighborhoods," Markey said in a statement. "Consumers saw their Wi-Fi morph into 'Spy-Fi'. The FCC was correct to fine Google for this breach and to cite the company's recalcitrance in providing timely and comprehensive information in support of the Commission's investigation. However, I am concerned that more needs to be done to fully investigate the company's understanding of what happened when consumer data was collected without their knowledge or permission."

Blumenthal said he was "troubled" by the FCC's decision not to crack down more severely on Google.

"Google's interception and collection of private wireless data potentially violates the Wiretap Act or other federal statutes, and I believe the Justice Department and state attorneys general should fully investigate this matter," Blumenthal said. "Google's failure to initially cooperate undermines their claim and federal agencies' conclusions that they violated no federal laws."

Steve Pociask, president of The American Consumer Institute, said Congress should hold hearings to get to the bottom of the incident.

"We support the FCC’s action against Google, but this small fine will not serve to change the behavior of a company with a market capitalization in excess of $200 billion," Pociask said.

—Updated at 3:17 p.m.