Google Privacy Probe Dropped by FTC After Assurances

Google Privacy Probe Dropped by FTC
Signage is displayed outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation of Google Inc.’s collection of data over unsecured wireless networks after the company said it will improve privacy safeguards in its Street View mapping project.

The agency said the Mountain View, California-based company also agreed not to use the data, according to a letter today from David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, to Albert Gidari, a lawyer for Google.

The company’s pledge not to include the information in any Google products “is critical to mitigate the potential harm to consumers from the collection of payload data,” Vladeck wrote. “Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter.”

Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, uses cars to photograph streets and houses to update Street View. The company admitted the cars also collected data from Wi-Fi networks, prompting an outcry by privacy advocates and lawmakers and spurring private lawsuits, European investigations and the FTC probe.

“We welcome the news that the FTC has closed its inquiry and recognized the steps we have taken to improve our internal controls,” said Christine Chen, a Google spokeswoman, in an e-mailed statement. “We did not want and have never used the payload data.”

Apology by Google

In a separate e-mailed message today, Google apologized for collecting the data. Prosecutors in Rome opened an investigation into alleged violations of privacy law, Ansa newswire reported today. In May, German regulators began their own probe.

With this decision and its prior approvals of Google’s acquisitions of AdMob Inc. and DoubleClick Inc., the FTC isn’t safeguarding privacy, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

“The FTC keeps giving Google a pass to collect consumer data,” he said in an e-mail. “The agency should have done more in this matter.”

Thirty-nine states, including Connecticut, also are investigating.

“Google’s alarming admission last week, confirming it collected entire e-mails and passwords, only heightened our concerns about how and why this data was collected,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.

Democratic Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Joe Barton of Texas have pressed Google to provide more details about the company’s collection of data from unsecured wireless networks.

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