FTC Lets Google Off The Hook

Google Street ViewI wonder what they got when they drove by my house?

Photo: Matt Rosoff

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ended an investigation into Google’s collection of data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, accepting the company’s explanation that it didn’t mean to snoop.

Privacy advocates had a minor freakout last summer when Google admitted that some of its Street View vehicles, which drive around cities taking pictures for the Google Maps Street View feature, were collecting data about Wi-Fi access points in hopes of improving the accuracy of the service. In the process, Google claims it “inadvertently” picked up some data travelling over unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

In a letter sent to Google yesterday (PDF here), the FTC said that it was concerned that Google’s internal processes lacked the kind of safeguards that would let it compromise privacy in this way. But the FTC accepted that Google is taking steps to remedy the situation, including appointing a director of privacy and adding privacy training for certain employees.

This is more or less what organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation were suggesting–not that Google was evil, simply that it was careless and needed to “grow up.”

The flap was probably overblown, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt hasn’t helped matters any with a seemingly cavalier series of statements about privacy online. Just last week, he was filmed joking that consumers who were worried about having their houses show up on Street View could “just move.”

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