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October 27, 2010

FTC Closes Investigation on Google for Privacy Concerns

By Erin Harrison, Executive Editor, Cloud Computing

While the Federal Trade Commission is still coming down on search engine giant Google (News - Alert) for collecting personal information transmitted over unsecured wireless networks, it said it is not taking any further action against the company.

The regulatory agency scolded Google Inc. in a Wednesday letter for allowing people's e-mails, passwords and Web surfing activity to be scooped up for several years before management realized it, the Associated Press (News - Alert) reported.

In regard to Google’s StreetView software, “it took an inquiry from German regulators earlier this year for Google to realize it had been inadvertently pulling in information off of wireless networks as its cars took photos of neighborhoods,” the AP said.

In a letter from the FTC to Google counsel Albert Gidari, Esq., the FTC (News - Alert) said it has closed its investigation indefinitely because it’s satisfied with the latest actions taken by Google in an effort to improve its internal privacy controls.

Last week, Google announced improvements to its internal processes including 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 company also publicly stated its intention to delete the inadvertently collected payload data as soon as possible. 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.

As TMCnet reported, as criticism intensified, Google acknowledged in a company blog that Street View cars got lot more than images of car plates and streets. It unknowingly collected unencrypted WiFi (News - Alert) payload data (information sent over networks) using the Street View cars, wrote Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research at Google, in a blog post on Oct. 22.

 “In some instances, entire e-mails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords,” said the blogger. He further added that Google was mortified by this breach, and would like to delete this data as soon as possible. In fact, in last Friday’s blog post, Eustace apologized on behalf of the company.

Erin Harrison is Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives, for TMC, where she oversees the company's strategic editorial initiatives, including the launch of several new print and online initiatives. She plays an active role in the print publications and TMCnet, covering IP communications, information technology and other related topics. To read more of Erin's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison

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