FTC closes investigation into Google's Wi-Fi snooping

The agency doesn't take any action against the company for the Street View privacy mistake

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has closed an investigation into Google Street View cars snooping into open Wi-Fi networks, with the agency declining to take action.

Google Street View disasters

Google's announcement in May that its Street View cars mistakenly collected data from open Wi-Fi networks raised FTC concerns "about the internal policies and procedures that gave rise to this data collection," wrote David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a Wednesday letter to Google.

However, Google has announced improvements to its internal processes, added privacy training for key employees, and has begun a privacy review process for new initiatives, Vladeck added. The company has also promised to delete the data collected, and has told the FTC that it will not used the data in any product or service, he wrote.

"This assurance is critical to mitigate the potential harm to consumers from the collection of the payload data," Vladeck wrote.

Government agencies in several European countries have also investigated the Wi-Fi snooping. Earlier in October, the Spanish Data Protection Agency announced it was preparing to fine Google over the privacy intrusion.

As of early June, Google was also facing seven class-action lawsuits in the U.S. over the data collection.

A Google spokeswoman said the company welcomes the news that the FTC has closed the inquiry and "recognized the steps we have taken to improve our internal controls."

"As we've said before and as we've assured the FTC, we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products or services," she added.

But privacy advocate Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the FTC "keeps giving Google a free pass to collect consumer data."

Since early 2008, Google has gotten permission from the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice to acquire DoubleClick and Admob, Chester noted.

"While Canadian and other regulators are in hot pursuit of Google's Wi-Fi data collection practices, the FTC has dropped its own investigation," he said. "Google's own flip-flops on this issue -- 'no we didn't collect, yes we did' -- suggest that much more should be done to investigate how Google has created a culture of online data collection that threatens consumer privacy."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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