Blog Post

Google Street View Privacy Snafu Draws Scrutiny From FCC

Google’s collection of internet users’ personal information from its Street View cars is continuing to produce political fallout. The Federal Communications Commission has confirmed it has an investigation underway, even though another federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, has said it’s satisfied with Google’s explanation.

Google’s cars take photographs of houses and streets that the company uses in its Street View maps, and the same cars collect information about WiFi hotspots. That WiFi information is used in honing the locating technology increasingly found in smartphones. But those cars are only supposed to collect information about the location of WiFi hotspots-not the private “payload” data that flows through those networks. It’s unclear how much of that data Google (NSDQ: GOOG) collected. Google says its engineers collected the payload data by accident.

Google’s data breach is also under investigation by regulators in Spain, France, Germany, and Italy. In May, Google issued an apology for the privacy breach, saying “[w]e are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake.”

The ending of the earlier FTC inquiry upset some privacy advocates. Jeffrey Chester, the director of the Center for Digital Democracy, suggested that the Obama FTC was going easy on Google, saying: “Google is a Democratic darling in many ways. Google needs to be investigated, and not given a free pass.” Consumer Watchdog, another group that has been critical of Google’s WiFi data collection, called for state attorneys general to investigate further.