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