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Google's Street View Cars May Have Violated Federal Laws

Susan Shimotsu |
November 11, 2010 | 3:35 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter


Google is under fire for its Street View cars. (Creative Commons)
Google is under fire for its Street View cars. (Creative Commons)
Just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission dropped its inquiry, the Federal Communications Commission is confirming its own investigation of Google’s inadvertent collection of private information.

Last month, Google announced it had accidentally picked up and recorded e-mails, passwords and other personal information when its Street View cars used Wi-Fi networks and GPS data to capture street-level images for Google Maps.

“In light of their public disclosure, we can now confirm that the Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act,” Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in a statement. “As the agency charged with overseeing the public airwaves, we are committed to ensuring that the consumers affected by this breach of privacy receive a full and fair accounting.”

The investigation dates back to May, when the FCC received a complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group that focuses on emerging civil liberties and privacy issues. EPIC wanted the FCC to determine whether Google was violating federal electronic eavesdropping laws. 

Alan Eustace, Google’s senior vice president of engineering and research, took to the company’s blog to apologize and outlined changes in people, training and compliance to make sure they don’t repeat this kind of invasion again.

“We want to delete this data as soon as possible,” he said. “I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place. We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users.”

Besides the FCC probe, several European countries have launched their own investigations about possible privacy breaches from Street View.

To reach reporter Susan Shimotsu, click here. Follow her on Twitter: @susanfromtx.
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