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US comms watchdog probes Google Street View Wi-Fi slurp

'Public disclosure' opened door for investigation

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Google’s Street View service is being probed by the US Federal Communication Commission to determine whether the company’s “worrisome” Wi-Fi data slurp broke any laws.

The ad broker said in October that it was “mortified” that Google’s Street View cars had inadvertently collected payload data including emails and passwords from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

"In light of their public disclosure, we can now confirm that the Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act," said FCC enforcement bureau boss Michele Ellison yesterday.

Google repeated its apology about the data slurp on Wednesday and said it was working with watchdogs on the matter.

"We want to delete the data as soon as possible and will continue to work with the authorities to determine the best way forward, as well as to answer their further questions and concerns," a Google spokesman told Reuters.

In June the FCC said that Google’s interception of data was “worrisome”, after the internet giant admitted its Street View cars in more than 30 countries secretly sniffed chunks of web traffic as it travelled over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Google, which had previously assured users the network payloads weren't collected, later admitted that the sniffing had been "accidental".

“Whether intentional or not, collecting information sent over Wi-Fi networks clearly infringes on consumer privacy,” said FCC official Joe Gurin earlier this year.

At the start of November, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office changed its mind about Google's Street View and decided that it was after all in breach of the Data Protection Act.

It had initially cleared Google’s collection of WiFi data by insisting it contained no personal information. The ICO – attacked by MPs for being “lily-livered” about the data slurp – later re-opened its probe, following tough action by other privacy bodies around the world. ®

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