Google Street View had an eye on more than just city streets it also once collected emails, passwords, Internet search histories, medical records and more from millions of people around the world, new documents show.
An FCC report released Friday reveals Google spent over two years between 2008 and 2010 quietly capturing a mountain of personal information by tapping into unsecured wireless networks through its Street View cars, which drive around capturing snapshots to populate the search giant's massive map database.
The FCC file, previously only released in heavily redacted form, also shows what Google had previously denied that the data gathering was intentional, and that several employees within the company knew about it for years.
When first questioned about its collection of personal data by European authorities in 2010, Google originally denied the practice, but later claimed it accidentally recorded what was likely just "fragmented" data from users on unprotected WiFi networks.
"Quite simply, it was a mistake," the company said in an official blog post.
Google later acknowledged Street View had in fact captured significant personal data, and announced changes to its practices to avoid it happening again in the future, according to the report.
Google Street View staffers told the FCC they did not know the information was being collected and the company maintained it did not sign off on the collection of that kind of data, the Los Angeles Times reported. However, records show the engineer behind the project showed his work to his colleaues and at least one senior manager.
Identified only as "Engineer Doe" in the report, the part-time Street View employee also apparently wrote a report for his team detailing what kinds of information the project would capture.
Engineer Doe's report shows he considered violation of privacy to be a concern, but dismissed it because Street View wouldn't be collecting information on "any given user for an extended period of time."
According to the FCC report, Engineer Doe thought the data might be useful to understand more about how people interacted with Google Search, but abandoned the project when a member of the search team told him "it had no use or value."
Google initially fought the FCC from making the full report public, according to the LA Times, but ultimately made a copy public after news outlets formally requested the uncensored version.
"We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals," Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in a statement to the L.A. Times. "While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC's conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us."
The FCC found that the data gathering was not technically illegal, but fined Google $25,000 for obstructing their investigation.