By Jeff Gould
Last week the FCC gave Google a verbal beatdown that, had it been delivered with karate chops rather than words, would have made Chuck Norris proud. In a 25 page report detailing its efforts to get Google to explain why it eavesdropped on the WiFi transmissions of untold thousands of home and business users, the Commission upbraided the search giant for its repeated attempts to stonewall and derail the investigation. With its relentless accumulation of compromising details the report makes for fascinating reading. But for those who don’t have the time, I offer here a brief summary and some speculation about what is really going on in this decidedly murky affair.
The eavesdropping occurred as part of Google’s effort to create a vast database of worldwide WiFi router locations that would enable location-based advertising on Android cell phones. But instead of limiting itself to collecting just the network addresses and GPS coordinates of the WiFi routers passed by its roving Google Cars (the only data needed for its declared purpose), Google also surreptitiously recorded over a two year period the content of transmissions sent by users who failed to properly secure their routers. According to information released by French regulators and cited by the FCC, the captured content included racy emails and postings to sexually explicit web sites, as well as much other material the owners certainly never intended to disclose to strangers.