Policy

Google, Under Scrutiny, Lobbies Harder

5/14/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Google has become a powerful force in
Washington, heavying up its lobbying presence most
recently by hiring former New York Republican congresswoman
Susan Molinari
to head
up its D.C. office. That’s
because
Washington
puts a price
on success
and size: Scrutiny.

The search company and video distributor — You-
Tube, Google TV — has been under a microscope in
Washington for months over how it treats all the information
it wants to famously organize and distribute,
using the wireless spectrum it has long pushed
the government to reclaim from broadcasters.

The Federal Communications Commission may
have concluded its investigation with only a $25,000
fine against Google for not being sufficiently cooperative.
Google disputes that. But in an unredacted
copy of the FCC report Google made available to
Multichannel News and others, it revealed that an engineer
working on Google’s Street View WiFi data hot
spot info-collection project knew it would be collecting
e-mails, texts and other so-called “payload” data
from unsecured nets.

“We decided to voluntarily make the entire document
available except for the names of individuals,”
Google said of its decision to make the unredacted
document public. “While we disagree with some of
the statements made in the document, we agree with
the FCC’s conclusion that we
did not break the law. We hope
that we can now put this matter
behind us.”

But the FCC’s findings, after
Google initially billed the
collection as inadvertent, has
fanned the flames for some
legislators already hot over
Google data collection and
privacy practices. Look for
the next chapter in Google’s
Washington story to be a trip
to the Hill. “I once again call
for an immediate Congressional
hearing to get to the
bottom of this very serious
situation,” said House privacy
caucus co-chairman Ed Markey
(D.-Mass.) following the
release of the FCC report.

ENGINEER: “D’OH!”

The FCC report on Street View provides a lot of ammunition to critics of
Google, including information on “Engineer Doe,” as in “John Doe,” an alias since Google did
not identify the engineer who wrote the code for collecting e-mails and passwords and URLs, but
invoked his right not to provide information to the FCC. Below are a few findings from the report.

1. “Engineer Doe developed WiFi data collection software code that in addition to collecting
WiFi network data…would collect payload data that Engineer Doe thought might prove
useful for other Google services.”

2. “Engineer Doe’s software was deliberately written to capture payload data.”

3. “Engineer Doe prepared [a design document] describing the hardware, software and
processes he proposed…”

4. The design document explains that wardriving (driving the streets in search of WiFi
hotspots) can be used to collect information about what users are doing, which the FCC
concludes refers “plainly” to payload data.

5. The document states that data would be analyzed offl ine and used for other initiatives.

6. One of the documents Google failed initially to produce for several months “recounted
the conversation in which Engineer Doe openly discussed his review of payload data with
a senior manager…”

March