Privacy SOS

Google lied about stealing passwords, emails, but didn’t break the law?

Photo Byrion Smith

I'm currently traveling and so don't have time to write extensively about this or any other issue for the next few hours, but want to quickly draw attention to a few shocking revelations regarding the FCC's (heavily redacted) report on Google password and email snooping via its Street View program.

First of all, the FCC's report is heavily redacted. Why? What's in the report that the public doesn't have the right to know? The only bright spot on Google's record in this terrible saga is that Google itself released the report with no redactions, absent the names of Google staffers. You can therefore read the entire report here.

Second, Google apparently lied about what it knew of the program, first claiming that it was the doing of rogue employees before being forced to admit that it was in fact a company program that supervisors knew about.

Google was fined $25,000 for what the FCC called "obstructing" their investigation, but apparently the company didn't violate any laws. That's shocking, given that, as the NYT writes, the report

draws a portrait of a company where an engineer can easily embark on a project to gather personal e-mails and Web searches of potentially hundreds of millions of people as part of his or her unscheduled work time, and where privacy concerns are shrugged off.

The program didn't violate any laws, says the FCC. But how can the watchdog agency be sure of this, given that it doesn't even know the full extent to which Google was harvesting the personal information of random people via those Street View cars that slowly drive through the streets of our nation, passing by our homes and businesses? 

Google says the data collection was legal. But when regulators asked to see what had been collected, Google refused, the report says, saying it might break privacy and wiretapping laws if it shared the material.

I'm not sure how you can read that last sentence and come away with any assumption other than that Google broke the law when it took our private data. 

Nonetheless, it appears as if the government won't protect us from high-tech snooping on the part of technology companies. On the other hand, the companies won't protect us from the government when it wants to snoop into our digital lives.

So what can you do? Encrypt your data, for starters.

And about that $25,000 fine? That's about as much money as Google makes in 60 seconds. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.