FCC to begin Google Street View investigation

Goole has found itself under the watchful eye of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The US organisation has now said it will be investigating whether Google broke federal laws when its street-mapping service collected consumers’ personal information.

The investigation joins a long list of regulators and lawmakers, around the world, who are looking at what Google says was the inadvertent harvesting of private data sent over wireless networks. It comes despite a decision by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to drop its probe into the company last month.

Google has said it was “mortified” to learn its WiFi-equipped Street View cars had mistakenly collected entire emails and passwords in some instances.

However, some lawmakers are having none of it. Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, 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.

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

Although the FCC has not said what it would expect from Google if it found it guilty, in May a letter to the FCC from the Electronic Privacy Information Centre suggested it could face fines of up to $50,000 if it was found to have intercepted WiFi transmissions for commercial or financial gain. Which is peanuts.

Congress and legal departments are so suspicious that the WSJ has reported that the privacy issues raised by its Street View data collection could be considered when internet privacy legislation is drafted next year.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on the FCC probe but said the company had “assured the FTC, which has closed its inquiry, we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products and services.”

Last month the UK let Google off with a slap on the wrist after dropping investigations into data harvesting. However, this month it was told off by the ICO, which announced the final outcome of its investigation into the Street View snooping fiasco and found that Google’s behaviour constituted a “significant breach” of the Data Protection Act.

This was a complete u-turn to its view in July when it said that there was no significant personal data captured and that no detrimental effect had been caused.