Google to Be Investigated by FCC

Google's collection of personal information - including emails and passwords from unsuspecting internet users - by its Street View cars is to be investigated by the US FCC. (photo by Flickr user Carlos Luna)

Google to Be Investigated by FCC

FCC to examine Google Street View's collection of personal data

Google's collection of personal information - including emails and passwords from unsuspecting internet users - by its Street View cars is to be investigated by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The data capture, which occurred when Google Street View cars took photographs for the panoramic imaging service, has already been ruled unlawful in many countries, including Canada and the UK.

The US communications regulator said it will now examine whether the collection violated the Communications Act, confirming in a statement that consumers affected by "the breach of privacy" will be given the opportunity of redress. The investigation, thought to have been prompted by a complaint from the pressure group Electronic Privacy Information Centre, comes just two weeks after the US Federal Trade Commission dropped its investigation into the data breach.

Google originally acknowledged the collection of personal information in May, posting an apology on the company's blog and claiming only fragments of information were collected.

However, following an investigation by Canada's privacy commissioner, it transpired that the technology giant had collected so-called "payload" data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Peter Fleischer, the company's global privacy counsel, recently said Google was "profoundly sorry for mistakenly collecting" the sensitive information. "As we have said before, we did not want this data, have never used any of it in our products or services, and have sought to delete it as quickly as possible."

The UK's information commissioner, Christopher Graham, last week ruled that Google had committed a "significant breach" of the Data Protection Act (DPA), announcing that the company will be subject to an audit of its data protection activities in the UK.

Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, announced earlier this month that the Metropolitan police have dropped their investigation into the personal information capture.

Fallout over the data breach has evolved into a wider public scrutiny about users' right to redress when their privacy is invaded by an internet company.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has come in for most of the criticism, with privacy campaigners labelling it an "apologist" for big business and some claiming it to have emerged from the Google payload collection debacle worse than the company itself.

Earlier this week the ICO was accused of being "more Keystone Cops than a protector of our civil liberties" for "not sending technical people" to investigate the payload data at Google's London headquarters in July.

The two senior ICO lawyers who were sent to investigate the data cleared Google of any wrongdoing at the time, only for it later to emerge that the company had committed a breach of the DPA.

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