Did Google Pry with its Wi-Spy? Some Countries Say Yes, FCC Investigating, Congress Says Look Into It

Members of Congress are vigorously urging the FCC to conduct a "full investigation" into the collection of consumer data by Google's Street View cars. Last May, Google disclosed that its cars had been collecting payload data from unsecured private Wi-Fi networks. That disclosure prompted a flurry of "Wi-Spy" investigations by the FTC, state prosecutors, and foreign regulatory bodies. Though the FTC closed its investigation last October, citing Google's promises to improve its privacy controls, the FCC announced its own investigation a month later. In a recent letter to the FCC, Representatives John Barrow (D-GA) and Mike Rogers (R-MI) complained that U.S. investigations to date have been unsatisfactory. According to the letter, the FTC dropped its investigation without answers to "serious questions" such as how the data breach occurred and how many consumers were affected. The letter further asserts that state attorneys general have been unable to obtain the collected data from Google even though investigators in South Korea, "a country one sixth the size of the U.S.," have done so and have identified "hundreds of thousands of affected consumers." The letter urges the FCC to fully investigate the matter and disclose the facts to American consumers, regardless of whether the agency finds a violation of law or not. Since its disclosure last May, Google has been under investigation in more than twenty countries, at least five of which have found violations of their privacy laws. In the United States, although the FTC and FCC may be reluctant to take responsive action, Members of Congress have indicated that the Wi-Spy incident could play a role in shaping internet privacy legislation being considered this year. So, while there have been no legal ramification for Google in the United States thus far, the incident may trigger the enactment of new elements of privacy law aimed at addressing technology such as Street View. – Nancy Perkins and Anita Kalra

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