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FTC ends Google 'Street View' investigation without fines

John D. Sutter
Countries have been investigating Google over its Street View program, which takes eye-level photos used in online maps.
Countries have been investigating Google over its Street View program, which takes eye-level photos used in online maps.
  • FTC ends its investigation of Google data "sniffing"
  • Google says it accidentally collected sensitive information from Wi-Fi ports
  • The FTC says Google has adequately addressed the issue
  • The U.S. commission did not issue a fine to the California company

(CNN) -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has called off its investigation of Google's "Street View" mapping program without issusing fines to the company, according to a letter sent from the FTC to Google on Wednesday.

The federal agency had been investigating the fact that Google collected communications, including passwords and e-mails, from people who used open Wi-Fi networks in their homes.

The data collections, which Google says were inadvertent, happened while Google was driving around taking pictures for the Street View function on Google Maps, the Mountain View, California, company said.

The FTC said Google has sufficiently addressed the problem.

"Google has made assurances to the FTC that the company has not used and will not use any of the payload data collected in any Google product or service, now or in the future," David C. Vladeck, the FTC's director for consumer protection, says a letter to Google, which was posted on the FTC's website.

"This assurance is critical to mitigate the potential harm to consumers from the collection of payload data. Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter at this time."

Google, which first mentioned the fact that it had "sniffed" this Wi-Fi data in May, said in a blog post last week that the data included more sensitive information than was previously thought.

"In some instances entire e-mails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords," Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice-president of engineering and research, wrote in a post on that company's blog.

Wednesday's FTC letter acknowledges Google has made changes since investigators uncovered the privacy breaches.

Those changes include "appointing a director of privacy for engineering and product management; adding core privacy training for key employees; and incorporating a formal privacy review process into the design phases of new initiatives."

The FTC letter states: "The company also publicly stated its intention to delete the inadvertently collected payload data as soon as possible."

The United States, however, isn't the only country that's been investigating Google's data collections in relation to Street View, a function of Google Maps that lets users see what streets look like from a man-on-the-street point of view.

More on the international scope of this issue from a CNN explainer:

Last week, the Canadian government said that Google broke the country's law by collecting the data but closed an investigation after calling it "a careless error."

In France, a commission that began investigating this summer ruled that personal data had been collected. Authorities cracked down, even pulling over Street View vehicles to make sure they had stopped collecting personal information.

The Czech Republic has banned Google from expanding the service, and the news sparked an online privacy debate in Germany, where Google is allowing people to opt out of Street View before the images go live.

Great Britain, however, determined that none of the information gathered there was sensitive.


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