Google’s Street View is a very helpful tool when you’re driving to a place you’ve never visited before. But what are we willing to give up in return for the convenience? No one wants to pay in cash for the service, so how about you turn over your web history and email instead?
More than a year ago, the FCC began an investigation about the data collected by Google’s Street View teams. It was learned that in addition to photographing an area, the happy little cars also scooped up data from unprotected wireless networks.
Google has never denied the data collection, but they have had a variety of explanations. According to a report in the LA Times, Google first went with the theory that an “unauthorized engineer” put the plan in motion without permission from the company. The data was collected but no one did anything with it.
Not so, says a recently released report by the FCC. They quote the engineer who worked on the project as saying,
“We are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they were doing.”
Google then said that yes, they collected the data but it was all perfectly legal. No problem then, said the FCC, let us see the data.
Google refused and the FCC hit them with a $25,000 fine for obstructing their inquiry.
Overall, the FCC report makes it pretty clear that many people at Google HQ new about the data collection but sidestepped the privacy concerns for a variety of reasons. One manager even said he pre-approved the proposal before it had been written, so he was unaware of the issues. Cause, yeah, that’s a great excuse for invasion of privacy — I signed off on a blank document.
In the end, Google got off easy with a light (for them) fine and a black-eye that is already fading. But the question remains, how much of our privacy are we willing to give up in order to get better online tools, more targeted advertising and more relevant search results?
As a marketer, you’re the person most likely to benefit from this kind of information gathering. Given that, do you think it’s okay for Google, or any company, to scoop up and review data from individuals without their permission? Or does privacy trump everything, especially profits?