FTC Closes Google Street View Investigation

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The Federal Trade Commission has decided not to take action against Google for the privacy breach that saw the company mistakenly intercept users' Internet transmissions over unsecured Wi-Fi networks as part of its Street View project.

In a letter to an attorney with the firm Perkins Cole LLP representing Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) in the Street View case, David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, chided the company for vacuuming up sensitive information, such as email messages and passwords, but acknowledged that the collection was inadvertent and that none of the payload data had been used for commercial purposes.

Vladeck said his office was moved not to press ahead with a complaint after Google announced a series of expanded internal policies and controls to incorporate privacy considerations into the development of its products and services at a more elemental level. Those changes included the elevation of the company's Alma Whitten to direct privacy operations across Google's engineering and product development divisions.

"Further, Google has made assurances to the FTC that the company has not used and will not use any of the payload data collected in any Google product or service, now or in the future," Vladeck wrote in the letter. "This assurance is critical to mitigate the potential harm to consumers from the collection of payload data. Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter at this time."

The privacy breach occurred as a result of a piece of experimental software that Google included in its camera-equipped Street View vehicles that was intended to collect data about Wi-Fi access points in an effort to improve the company's location-based services, but mistakenly snared the contents of Internet traffic passing across unencrypted wireless networks.

While the FTC's decision is certainly welcome news for Google, U.S. regulators are hardly the only state authorities with concerns about the Street View data collection. Google said on Friday that seven government investigations have been resolved, though it is still facing ongoing probes in several jurisdictions, including Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, countries where privacy officials have historically taken a tougher stance against Internet companies than their U.S. counterparts.

In the meantime, Google faces numerous class-action suits relating to its Street View cars, which resumed their image-collection patrols this summer following a brief hiatus. The cars are no longer collecting any information about Wi-Fi hotspots.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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