Google Spends More On One Day of Lunch Than It Will On FCC Fine

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    The FCC is fining Google $25,000 for impeding an investigation into personal e-mails and other data collected via the company’s Street View cars.

    But that’s far from a punitive fine for the search giant. In fact, it is less than the company spends on one day of lunch for its employees.

    Google generated more than $37.9 billion in revenue last year. It employees more than 32,000 full-time research, sales, administrative and operations workers, whom it famously provides with free food, drinks, snacks and ice cream.

    Even if the company is spending just $1 per day per employee to provide its “healthy and delicious dishes,” the FCC’s fine is no more of a hardship on the company than its daily lunch expense.

    Nevertheless, the government’s hands are tied. An FCC spokesperson told Mashable that $25,000, by both law and precedent, is the maximum fine the agency can give for impending an investigation.

    What, then, is Google’s incentive — or that of any large company –to cooperate with any such investigation?

    “There is something of the pain of embarrassment that goes with it,” John Simpson, a privacy advocate at Consumer Watchdog, tells Mashable. However, Simpson agrees the fine is miniscule “given the context.”

    In order to collect the photos you see when in Google Maps Street View, Google drove camera-equipped cars through streets. The cars also collected information about local wireless networks that improve location-based searches.

    The problem is that along with this data, the cars collected a snapshot of whatever data happened to be crossing those WiFi networks — whether it be an email message, a web search or something else.

    It’s not clear exactly how Google used this information or if it even looked at it. The company says collecting it was an accident, but that it was nonetheless legal.

    The FCC agreed with the later sentiment and did not fine Google for collecting the data.

    If it had found Google to be in violation, the FCC’s penalty would likely be a greater blow to Google’s reputation than its bank account. The highest settlement the FCC has reached in its history was $25 million, which Verizon paid after overcharging 15 million cellphone customers.

    For Google, that settlement would equate to lunch for a couple of months. Still, it’s just lunch.

    Authorities in Canada and Europe are still investigating Google’s Street Car data collection issue. A French privacy authority settled its case against the search giant in March for 100,000 euros, about $140,000 at the time. According to The New York Times, it was allowed a fine of up to just 150,000 euros by law. The Belgian government offered to settle with Google for 150,000 euros, or $215,000 at the time.

    European lawmakers are attempting to increase penalties for large companies that violate data collection laws. One proposed revision of Europe’s data protection law, The Times points out, allows violators to be fined up to two percent of their annual sales.

    For Google, that would be 758 million euros — which has to be enough lunch money for at least a decade.

    Should the U.S. fine Google more for privacy violations and investigation obstructions, accidental or otherwise? Let us know your take in the comments.

    UPDATE: According to a report by ProPublica, the FCC legally could have fined Google up to $337,500. Mashable has contacted the FCC for comment on how the fees were calculated and will update this article with any response.

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