FCC investigates Google Street View data grab

WASHINGTON - US government telecom regulators are investigating the collection of private wireless data by Google's 'Street View' mapping service.

"Last month, Google disclosed that its Street View cars collected passwords, emails and other personal information wirelessly from unsuspecting people across the country," said Michele Ellison, Enforcement Bureau Chief of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"In light of their public disclosure, we can now confirm that the Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act," Ellison said.

"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," Ellison added.

The FCC was asked in May by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to investigate whether Google had violated US federal laws against electronic eavesdropping.

Another US government body, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), last month ended its inquiry into the data collection by Street View cars without taking any action.

The FTC noted recent moves made by the company to prevent such an incident from happening again and said it was satisfied with the commitments from the search giant.

Google has pledged to strengthen its privacy and security practices after its Street View cars scooped up data from unsecured wireless networks, including entire emails and passwords, in dozens of countries.

Google announced in May that Street View cars taking photographs of cities in more than 30 countries had inadvertently gathered data sent over unsecured Wi-Fi systems.

Google has since stopped the collection of Wi-Fi data, used to provide location-based services such as driving directions in Google Maps and other products, by Street View cars.

Google is facing civil suits in Oregon and several other US states demanding millions of dollars in damages over its collection of personal wireless data and a number of countries have taken action against Street View.

Spain's data protection authority has filed suit against Google and the Czech data protection authority has banned the company from taking Street View pictures, saying they violated privacy.

Street View, which was launched in 2006, lets users view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and take a virtual "walk" through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong.

- AFP

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