The FCC has cleared Google of any wrongdoing over the WiFi snooping case, but nonetheless hit it with a $25,000 fine for “noncompliance with [FCC] information and document requests.” Google, for its part, has repeatedly said it has done nothing illegal, and that its previous practices were a “mistake,” despite the fact the FCC found that the Google engineer involved in the project declined to testify.
“It seems that the FTC and other regulators around the world weren’t able to assess the full scope of the problem without [this withheld information] and may have closed their investigations prematurely,” Katitza Rodriguez, the international rights director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars on Monday, adding that the technical information was “critical to a proper assessment of what [Google] did.” Just to be clear, 25 large is pretty tiny to a company like Google. For a company worth almost $200 billion, this amount is so meaningless it’s basically laughable, particularly when the FCC has said it’s now dropping this case.
Earlier this year, European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding put forward a proposed revision of EU law that would radically update the 27-member bloc’s 1995-era data protection directive. Had this new proposal been in place prior to Google’s violation, it would have been required to notify data protection authorities as soon as possible—and face a fine of up to 2 percent of annual sales, which in Google’s case, could have reached €758 million ($990 million). Of course, these new proposed European regulations, if they do pass the European Parliament, will likely take a few years to become the law of the land.
To date, this appears to be the only fine from American authorities that Google has faced in relation to the WiFi snooping case. Across the pond in Europe, fines for judicial obstruction or privacy violations haven’t been much stiffer, either: CNIL, the French data protection authority, fined Google a maximum of €100,000 ($130,000). Their Dutch counterparts threatened to hit Google with a €1.4 million ($1.8 million) fine if it didn’t provide a way for Dutch users to opt out, which it did last April—and that case resulted in no fine at all. In 2010, Italian authorities threatened Google with an €1,800 fine ($2,352) if the company didn’t fulfill its new privacy restrictions. In some really privacy-conscious corners of Europe, like Germany, Google has pulled the plug on entire projects—abandoning collecting new Street View data as of last year.