FCC looks at Google's Street View data grab

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 10, 2010 6:36pm EST

A cake decorated with the Google logo is pictured during a Google Street View startup event in Oberstaufen, Germany, November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

A cake decorated with the Google logo is pictured during a Google Street View startup event in Oberstaufen, Germany, November 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is looking into Google Inc's "Street View" maps service, to see if the company's collection of emails and other private information violated federal laws.

The FCC probe underscores the multiple investigations still faced by Google for data collected by its cars photographing streets around the world, despite a decision by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to drop its probe last month.

Google said last month that it was "mortified" to learn its WiFi-equipped Street View cars had mistakenly collected entire emails and passwords in some instances.

"In light of their public disclosure, we can now confirm that the Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act," Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau, said on Wednesday.

A Google spokesman said in a statement that the company is sorry for mistakenly collecting data from unencrypted networks and is cooperating with regulators.

"We want to delete the data as soon as possible and will continue to work with the authorities to determine the best way forward, as well as to answer their further questions and concerns," the spokesman said.

Google plans to mitigate future privacy concerns by appointing a director of privacy for engineering and product management, training key employees on privacy, and building a formal privacy review into the early phases of new initiatives.

It is unclear what remedies the FCC might seek from Google, depending on the findings of its investigation.

A May letter to the FCC from the Electronic Privacy Information Center suggested Google could face fines of up to $50,000 if it is found to have intercepted WiFi transmissions for commercial or financial gain.

The world's largest Internet company still faces inquiries in other countries over the Street View data as well as from more than 30 U.S. state prosecutors.

The use of consumers' personal data and tracking of web-surfing habits is a concern that has accompanied the growth of the Internet in everyday lives.

Companies argue that they can better tailor advertising and services to consumers using the information.

Republican Joe Barton, a contender to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year, said last week the panel would focus on online privacy policies.

Analysts say Internet privacy is one of the few issues on which U.S. lawmakers may be able to reach a consensus in a divided Congress where Republicans will control the House and Democrats will retain a reduced majority in the Senate.

U.S. regulatory agencies are also putting the spotlight on privacy practices.

The FTC is preparing recommendations for privacy laws, while the FCC has been gathering information from companies to learn how to encourage investment while protecting privacy.

"We have a responsibility to protect people's privacy in communications," Josh Gottheimer, senior counselor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, said in a telephone interview.

"Right now, we're in a bit of a learning stage," he said.

(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco; Editing by Robert MacMillan and Tim Dobbyn)

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Comments (2)
TomMariner wrote:
In medical devices everything we have to do has to be safe and effective. The idea is to manage risk. If medical stuff only paid attention to “safe”, most of us would die because somehow, someway some dunder head could drop a tongue depressor on someones foot and make them go “ouch” and doctors would be limited to sitting across the room and shouting questions at us.

Google Earth and all of the Street View features are incredibly useful / effective to private citizens, governments, etc. This utter stupidity of scolding Google for scooping up wifi data when all they wanted was a “signature” so they could use the data for location in non-GPS circumstances. But Google violated the lawyers first rule, “find the deep pockets.” So let’s get a government and then a private lawyer to claim some “privacy” thing and then make up some number with lots of zeroes and … roll the dice.

Of course the result will be that Google will decide effective or not to almost everyone on the planet, it will be sued out of existance. And we all know it is bogus, and we all know we want the service, and we all do nothing. Where are the voices of those on the side of sanity?

Nov 10, 2010 5:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
WarrensGoff wrote:
I wonder if Google turned off its hacking software when it collected images of the White House and Pentagon. I’m sure they wouldn’t have accidentally and inadvertently collected top secret information. I guess hackers can now claim to have broken into systems by accident using Google as a precedent but then tax evaders can claim Geitner as an excuse as well.

Nov 10, 2010 7:21pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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