NEW YORK (AP) - The Federal Trade Commission is scolding Google Inc. without punishing the Internet search leader for collecting
e-mails, passwords and other personal information transmitted over
unsecured wireless networks.
In a two-page letter released Wednesday, the regulatory agency
expressed its displeasure with Google for allowing potentially
sensitive information to be scooped up for several years before
management realized it. It took an inquiry from German regulators
earlier this year for Google to realize it had been inadvertently
pulling and storing information from wireless networks as its cars
took photos of neighborhoods around the world for its "Street
View" mapping service.
The activity outraged some privacy watchdogs who believed
Google's activity may have violated laws against unauthorized
wiretapping. It also triggered the attention of legal authorities
in several of the more than 30 countries where Google's cars were
snooping through Wi-Fi networks.
Although Google apologized for intruding, it has steadfastly
insisted that it didn't break any laws because it got the data from
Wi-Fi systems that should have been protected with passwords. That
lack of security left the networks open to anyone passing by with
the right equipment. Google's Street View cars no longer are
equipped to detect Wi-Fi networks.
The FTC said it closed its investigation without any further
action against Google because it's satisfied with a series of
measures that the company announced last week in an effort to
improve its internal privacy controls.
Consumer Watchdog, a group that has been among the most strident
critics of Google's so-called "Wi-Spy" incident, called FTC's
resolution "premature and wrong." It also suggested that Google's
lobbyists may have swayed the outcome of the inquiry. The company
has spent $3.9 million on lobbying activities so far this year and
has met with the FTC on variety of topics, according to company
"At a minimum, the public deserved a full report about Google's
abuses from the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection," said John
Simpson, who oversees a Consumer Watchdog project monitoring
In a statement, Google said it welcomed the FTC's findings.
The company's collection of Wi-Fi information remains under
investigation in the U.S. by a coalition of state attorneys
general. Italy on Wednesday became the latest of several countries
outside the U.S. to open investigations into whether Google's
surveillance of Wi-Fi systems broke their laws.
Google says it gathered about 600 gigabytes of data -- enough to
fill about six floors of an academic library -- and wants to delete
all the information as soon it's cleared in all the affected
countries. So far, it has only purged the information it picked up
in Ireland, Denmark, Austria and Hong Kong.
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