If you’re online and need a question answered, where do you go? If you’re like most Americans and many Europeans leveraging a search, you’re using Google. What would happen if Google didn’t answer your question? That’s what happened to the Federal Communications Commission regarding their question of Google’s Street View project.
The FCC recently censured Google due to its obstruction of the ‘interim report.’ The Google engineer, responsible party for the street-view project chose not to participate in discussions, citing the Fifth Amendment. The company was fined $25,000 for the tight-lipped response; but, some are not satisfied with the notion of the investigation or the fine; they want to get down to the issue of privacy. Ironically, this Google privacy issue doesn’t have to do with its recent online user privacy changes. These privacy issues have to do with Google possibly infringing on the offline privacy rights of individuals through its collection of ‘available’ computer data.
“I appreciated that the FCC sanctioned Google for not cooperating in the investigation, but the much bigger problem is the pervasive and covert surveillance of Internet users that Google undertook over the three-year period,” offers Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He has plans to ask the Justice Dept. to investigate the search giant regarding ‘wiretapping.’
Google cars patrolled the streets of America for some time, ostensibly collecting street data. But, Google engineers wrote another program for the project, which helped collect user data. As cars rolled by, data ‘snapshots’ were taken, intercepting unencrypted communications, maintaining info related to emails, texts, searches, and other digital actions. Google collected the data from January 2008 to April 2010.
Concerns over privacy infringement took place in Europe as well as settled on American soil. When Google was approached, it said very little, admitting it would do ‘a better job next time.’ At present, it is unsure whether the Google engineer said nothing due to personal volition or Google executive prompting.
It seems Google is hoping to come out innocent based on present legalities set in place rather than based on obsolete Communications Acts, which do not clearly integrate new communication data collection opportunities presently available in the digital age. Some countries have put the Street View project concerns to rest. In 2010, Ireland asked Google to destroy any user data illegally collected in Irish jurisdiction. Google abided. In Germany, criminal investigations against Google opened in 2010 are still looming; the Hamburg prosecutor must decide whether or not to press charges, whether Google illegally intercepted private data through electronic means.
As the digital age, we are likely to see more dynamics such as these. Where does the data collection stop? Where does the infringement on personal privacy start? At what point does the government step in? At what point do we understand some of the technology is so new that it’s difficult for the masses and regulators to clearly understand if there is an infringement issue involved to begin with?