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Congress wants hearing over Google Wi-Fi

Earlier this week Google sent a letter to Congress explaining its Wi-Fi data collection project, but company executives will likely have to answer more questions.

Google told a congressional committee in a letter this week that it doesn't believe its Wi-Fi data-gathering scandal broke any laws, but that might not be enough to satisfy their inquiries.

Google Street View
Google Street View cars were also collecting wireless signals, and Congress isn't happy. CNET Asia

File it under the what-else-are-they-going-say department, but Google's letter to three members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee apologized for the personal wireless data gathered as part of its Street View project and said it had stopped gathering all data on wireless hot spots in the U.S. Google disclosed in May that in addition to collecting wireless data that helps improve mapping services, it had taken the shocking step of also recording so-called "payload" data, or actual network traffic, from unsecured hotspots.

"We believe it does not violate U.S. law to collect payload data from networks that are configured to be openly accessible (i.e., not secured by encryption and thus accessible by any user's device)," wrote Pablo Chavez, director of public policy, in the letter (click for PDF). "We emphasize that being lawful and being the right thing to do are two different things, and that collecting payload data was a mistake for which we are profoundly sorry."

The Congressmen--Republican Joe Barton of Texas, Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Democrat Henry Waxman of California--were not impressed.

"This is deeply troubling for a company that bases its business model on gathering consumer data," Barton said in a statement posted on Markey's Web site. "That failure is even more disturbing and ironic in view of the fact that Google is lobbying the government to regulate Internet service providers, but not Google. As we are contemplating privacy legislation in the committee, I think this matter warrants a hearing, at minimum."

Google is also going to have to answer to civil plaintiffs who have filed eight lawsuits over the Wi-Fi data collection. This week Google sought to have those suits consolidated and moved to California, a motion which is under review.