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Google May Face Further U.K. Action After FCC Privacy Report

Google Inc. may face further action by a British privacy regulator for gathering personal data, after the agency reviews findings by a U.S. investigation.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is studying the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s report on data gathering by Google for Street View “to consider what further action, if any, needs to be taken,” the U.K. watchdog said today.

While Street View cars photograph buildings and homes to provide street-level mapping to Google users, they went beyond that to using wireless connections to gather people’s personal communications.

In an agreement ending the U.K. inquiry into Street View in November 2010, Mountain View, California-based Google acceded to further ICO audits of its privacy practices. One was published in August 2011 and will be reviewed this year to ensure ICO recommendations were followed, the agency said today. Google was fined $25,000 by the FCC last month for impeding its investigation into improper data gathering.

Google didn’t use the personal data it collected in any products or services and the U.S. Justice Department and FCC “have found no violation of law,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

For three years starting in May 2007, Google collected content from wireless networks that it didn’t need for its location-based services, according to the FCC. The company gathered so-called payload data, including e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet-usage history and “other highly sensitive personal information,” the FCC said.

Payload Collection

“We have always been clear that the leaders of this project did not want or intend to use this payload data,” Google spokesman Anthony House said.

A Google engineer developed the software that collected the personal data and has invoked his right against self-incrimination to not be interviewed by the FCC, the agency said May 2. The FCC said then it wouldn’t seek penalties under U.S. wiretap laws because there wasn’t clear precedent, and his silence left questions unanswered.

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