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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/27/2010
02:00 PM
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FTC Ends Google Street View Investigation

The steps Google has taken to improve its internal controls are enough for the FTC.

In a letter sent to an attorney representing Google on Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission said that it is closing its inquiry into Google's inadvertent collection of WiFi packet data.

In May, Google revealed that it had unknowingly been gathering WiFi data through its Street View cars as the vehicles drove around various cities taking pictures. The company said that one of its engineers had written some experimental WiFi code that grabbed unprotected WiFi network data. That code was included in the computers used in Street View image acquisition without authorization.

Google executives have apologized repeatedly for the oversight, which has led to lawsuits and investigations around the globe.

David Vladek, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that Google's recently announced improvements to its internal processes and controls, its public declaration that it intends to delete the data it gathered as soon as possible, and assurances made by the company to the FTC are sufficient to allow the agency to conclude its investigation.

On Friday, Google confirmed that its WiFi data gathering had captured captured e-mail messages and passwords among other sensitive fragments of information, a finding announced last week by data protection agencies in Canada and Spain.

Spanish regulators look as if they'll be taking a harder line against Google than the FTC. The Spanish data protection agency has concluded its fact finding and moved on to disciplinary proceedings, which could result in fines of several hundred thousand dollars for each specific infraction.

Canada's privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has taken a stance more like that of the FTC. Stoddart wants Google implement employee privacy training and privacy governance controls, and to delete WiFi data associated with Canadians by February 1, 2011.

That's just what Google plans to do. The company said last week that it has promoted one of its engineers to serve as director of privacy, that it is enhancing its employee privacy training, and that it has added a new internal privacy compliance process.

Nevertheless, the company's Street View troubles aren't over. Several hundred thousand Germans have asked Google to remove their properties from Street View, an option offered to Germans as part of the deal Google signed with German authorities to provide the service. And Italian authorities have ordered Google to make sure its Street View cars -- recognizable by their roof-mounted periscope cameras -- are clearly marked and to provide advance notification of the routes the cars will travel.

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