Google originally had come under considerable fire for its Street View product, where the online services giant photographed homes and other buildings in numerous countries as part of its online mapping service, as individuals said the photos invaded their privacy. Then in May, Google announced that, for more than three years — in more than 30 countries — it had been “mistakenly collecting” personal data from open WiFi networks as its vehicles roamed the streets taking photos for its Street View mapping service. At the time, Google said that the data could include e-mail messages, passwords, or Web site visits. Congressional lawmakers began asking questions (pdf) about the data collection. Later, the company admitted the data collected — without individuals’ knowledge or consent — did include entire e-mails and passwords.
Last month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it has closed an investigation into possible privacy breaches by Google’s Street View after the company pledged to stop gathering consumers’ e-mail, passwords and other personal data. A week ago, the Information Commissioner in the UK declared that Google committed a “significant breach” of the country’s Data Protection Act when it collected personal data through its Street View online mapping program; however, the Commissioner did not impose a financial penalty for the violation.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Communications Commission opened an investigation earlier this year into the WiFi data collection by Google to determine if the company has violated US laws:
The Federal Communications Commission is investigating whether Google Inc. broke federal laws when its street-mapping service collected consumers’ personal information, joining a lengthy list of regulators and lawmakers probing what Google says was the inadvertent harvesting of private data sent over wireless networks.
Key Republicans and Democrats in Congress have indicated that the privacy issues raised by Google’s Street View data collection could be a factor when lawmakers consider new Internet privacy legislation next year. […]
The FCC opened its investigation earlier this year. “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,” said Michele Ellison, the chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, in a statement confirming the investigation. The FCC doesn’t generally disclose details of its investigations publicly. […]
Regulators around the world and several U.S. state attorneys general are also investigating Google’s possible privacy breach.
The New York Times filed a report with details on the FCC investigation after the Journal reported it.