Privacy advocates see FTC's Google decision as 'free pass'

"The FTC keeps giving Google a free pass to collect consumer data card," he said. "While Canadian and other regulators are in hot pursuit of Google's Wi-Fi data collection practices, the FTC has dropped its own investigation."

He said Google's "flip flips on this issue  — no we didn't collect, yes we did" are one reason a stronger investigation would have been appropriate. He also questioned whether Google's political sway helped it through the privacy debacle.

"Google's political clout with the Obama administration also raises concerns that federal policymakers are fearful of taking on the online ad giant," he said.

A Google spokesperson said the government noticed it has tried to improve its privacy protections in the wake of the incident.

"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," she said.

John Simpson, director of the Inside Google Project at Consumer Watchdog, also questioned special ties between the company and the government.

“Once again, Google, with its myriad of government connections, gets a free pass,” he said. “At a minimum, the public deserved a full report about Google’s abuses from the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Instead, the company announced a few steps that are little more than window dressing, and the FTC caves in with a woefully inadequate two-page letter.”

David Vladeck, director of the FTC consumer protection bureau, said in a letter to Google on Wednesday that the agency will end its inquiry because Google has promised to improve its privacy practices.

Still, Vladeck said, the incident shows Google's internal review processes are "not adequate."