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FCC fines Google $25,000 for allegedly impeding Street View investigation

The Federal Communications Commission said Google collected personal information without permission and "deliberately" refused to cooperate with the agency.

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A Google Street View from the French town of Angers near where a Frenchman was captured urinating in his garden by a Google camera van. (Google Street View/YouTube)

The FCC has fined Google $25,000 for allegedly impeding the agency's investigation into its data collection for its Street View project, Reuters reported

The Federal Communications Commission claims Google collected personal information without permission, and cited evidence that the search giant had "deliberately" refused to cooperate with the US agency's investigation, according to Reuters. 

"Google refused to identify any employees or produce any e-mails. The company could not supply compliant declarations without identifying employees it preferred not to identify," according to an FCC order dated April 13, Reuters reported. 

The main software engineer involved in the project also invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify during the investigation, USA Today reported

Google's data collection for Street View, which allows users to see real-life views of a location, took place from May 2007 to May 2010, the New York Times reported.

The information the company culled included "complete e-mail messages, instant messages, chat sessions, conversations between lovers, Web addresses revealing sexual orientation, and information that could be linked to specific street addresses," according to European and Canadian regulators who investigated the data Google pulled in their own countries, the Times reported. 

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“It’s their whole business model,” Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken, who is in charge of a subcommittee on privacy, said in a recent speech about how companies like Google and Facebook accumulate data on users. “And you are not their client; you are their product,” he added, according to the Times. 

In May 2010, Google said it would stop using Wi-Fi information for Street View, and claimed it had collected the information by mistake, Bloomberg reported

The FCC ultimately determined that the data mining was legal because the information was not encrypted, the Times reported. 

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“We worked in good faith to answer the FCC's questions throughout the inquiry, and we’re pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law," a Google spokeswoman said Saturday, according to the Times. 

Google has often come under scrutiny from both consumers and advocacy groups for their privacy policies, PC World pointed out

"Because of the amount of attention those privacy concerns have garnered, you'd think a policy of transparency on Google's part would bode well with those who have doubts about whether or not the company can be trusted with increasing amounts of personal data," wrote PC World's Christina DesMarais. 

Many have argued that the $25,000 fine is too small, especially compared to the harsher actions taken by European companies (and to Google's market value of $203.5 billion, according to Bloomberg). 

Last year, France fined Google €100,000, or about $140,000 at the time, for its privacy violations while working on Street View, the Times reported. 

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business-tech/120415/fcc-fines-google-street-view-data-collection-investigation