FTC: No fine in Google Street View Wi-Fi probe

Google won't be fined by the Federal Trade Commission over its accidental Street View collection of Wi-Fi data fragments.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

Google won't face any fines from U.S. regulators over its accidental Street View Wi-Fi data collection.

Google Street View Wi-Fi

The Federal Trade Commission sent a letter to the search company today, saying that because Google has made improvements to its internal privacy practices, including a formal review process, it would not pursue the matter further.

"Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter at this time," wrote David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

In May, Google said that because of a programming error, its Street View cars had intercepted fragments of data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks for periods of 200 milliseconds at a time. An investigation by the Canadian government showed that the about 12 Blu-ray discs' worth of Wi-Fi transmissions worldwide were collected after an unnamed Google engineer failed to follow company procedures--by not sending design specifications for Street View code to the company's legal department for review.

Google acknowledged last week that, in some cases, it collected e-mail messages and passwords. There is no evidence the data was ever misused. The company has no plans to resume using its Street View cars to collect information about the locations of Wi-Fi networks.

Vladeck's letter said that Google "should develop and implement reasonable procedures" to "identify risks to consumer privacy."

In a blog post on October 22, Google outlined the steps it was taking to improve its privacy practices, including appointing computer scientist Alma Whitten as a director of privacy, and better training and legal compliance.

Some other privacy commissioners continue to investigate Street View.

Update 10:15 a.m. PT: Google just sent over this statement: "We welcome the news that the FTC has closed its inquiry and recognized the steps we have taken to improve our internal controls. As we've said before and as we've assured the FTC, we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products or services." And while I'm at it, in case there's any confusion, the investigations aren't targeting Street-View-the-mapping-product. Instead, the agencies have been looking into how Google's cars that did the mapping separately collected fragments of unencrypted Wi-Fi transmissions.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved in Street View.