Two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission closed its investigation of online search giant Google's Street View mapping project without taking action, another government agency is picking up where the FTC left off.
The Federal Communications Commission is investigating whether Google broke the law by collecting personal information from Internet users while gathering data for its Street View mapping technology.
"Last month, Google disclosed that its Street View cars collected passwords, e-mails and other personal information wirelessly from unsuspecting people across the country," Michele Ellison, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau chief, said in a prepared statement. "The Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act."
Back In 2007, Google began collecting images for its Street View mapping service by having cars transporting multiple cameras drive through neighborhoods in more than 30 countries. Devices on board were inadvertently grabbing information from wireless networks as they passed through. According to the FTC, the practice continued for several years before Google executives realized what was happening (after German officials started asking questions).
Google claims it has never used the personal data collected for commercial reasons, and a spokesman reiterated that the company was "profoundly sorry" for inadvertently collecting the information. While the company says it's eager to delete the data and put the whole thing to rest, regulators are insisting that Google preserve the information for any official investigations.
The Street View data collection also is being investigated jointly by 38 state attorneys general.
Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog on Thursday requested a congressional investigation and testimony under oath from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Alma Whitten, the company's director of privacy for engineering and product management.
In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Tex) ranking member, the public interest group said, “As chief executive, (Schmidt) is ultimately responsible for the Internet giant’s approach to privacy. He should have to explain what he means when he says Google’s policy is to go ‘right up to the creepy line.’ We suspect that such a cavalier attitude toward consumers’ privacy has much to do with creating the culture that encouraged Google’s Wi-Spy intrusions.”
That's not an unreasonable assumption.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.