FCC confirms privacy probe of Google Street View

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Nov. 10, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.

The Federal Communications Commission is investigating whether Google Inc. broke federal laws when its street-mapping service collected consumers’ personal information, joining a lengthy list of regulators probing what Google says was inadvertent harvesting of private data sent over wireless networks.

The FCC opened its investigation this year, an FCC official confirmed Wednesday. An FCC spokeswoman didn’t immediately have comment on the agency’s investigation. The FCC generally doesn’t publicly disclose details of its investigations.

In May, the FCC received a complaint from Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group, asking it to investigate whether Google violated federal communications law designed to prevent electronic eavesdropping. Intention violations of the law could result in fines of up to $50,000 per violation.

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission closed its investigation into Google’s Street View service. Regulators around the world and several U.S. state attorney generals are still investigating Google’s potential privacy breach. Regulators are looking into whether Google street mapping teams collected and stored passwords, emails and other personal information collected from unprotected wireless Internet networks around the world.

A spokeswoman for Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a recent blog post on Google’s Web site, Alan Eustace, a senior vice president of engineering and research, said the company was “mortified” by the Wi-Fi matter and “want to delete this data as soon as possible.” The company found that the data, while largely “fragmentary,” in some cases included complete e-mail addresses, URLs and passwords.

The company last month announced changes that are meant to improve internal privacy and security practices, including enhancing employee training on information-security awareness and requiring every engineering project leader to maintain a “privacy design document for each initiative they are working on,” Eustace said in the post.

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