According to a watchdog's report, Google knew what was happening and did nothing.
The Federal Communications Commission spent 17 months investigating Google's Street View project and released a heavily censored report. Although it found that Google had not violated any laws, the agency said Google had obstructed the inquiry and fined the company $25,000.
Over the weekend Google released a version of the report with only employees' names redacted which gave everyone a much more detailed look at what happened.
The full version shows that at Google, 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.
It seems that the unnamed engineer was supposed to discuss privacy considerations with Product Counsel but it never happened.
Google says the data collection was legal, but refused to hand it over the FTC saying that it might break privacy and wire-tapping laws if it shared the material.
A Google spokesperson told the New York Times that it now had much stricter privacy controls than in the past.
While Google's openness has to be welcomed, it does not show the search engine being particularly truthful with the media.
When information about the secret data collection first began to emerge, Google claimed the "lone gunman" defence and said the data was never used.
However, the report shows that the engineer's original proposal was that the data could be analysed offline for use in other initiatives. Google said that this was not done.
As for the lone engineer idea, it would appear that five engineers tested the Street View code, a sixth reviewed it line by line, and a seventh also worked on it, the report says.