Lawmakers urge FCC to investigate Google

Two lawmakers have urged the FCC to conduct a full investigation into a privacy breach involving Google's Street View.

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) want the Federal Communications Commission to examine an incident last year involving cars that take "street view" images for Google Maps. They called for the investigation in a letter sent to the FCC on Wednesday. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Google last year said its Street View cars had downloaded unsecured data from private WiFi networks including e-mails and passwords while taking photos for Google Maps. In the letter, Rogers and Barrow argue the FCC must seek answers on the incident from people directly involved.

"Google has played an enormous role in advancing the Internet as we know it today, but Americans have a right to know the relative facts of its Wi-Fi data collection activity known to U.S. consumers, regardless of whether the FCC finds a technical violation of the law," Rogers said.

"Earlier letters and investigations have not resulted in any action, leaving American consumers with little information about Google’s conduct."

The incident, dubbed "Wi-Spy," prompted an international backlash from privacy advocates and authorities demanding access to the breached data. The Federal Trade Commission ended its probe of the incident in October after Google pledged to improve its privacy practices.

Google also refused to comply with a request to turn over the data from then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, now a Democratic senator. Blumenthal's successor, George Jepsen, agreed to settle the case out of court last month, allowing Google to avoid handing over the data by acknowledging the breach once again.


"Consequently, nine months since Google first admitted to collecting this data, we still don’t have answers as to how this security breach was allowed to take place and how many Americans were affected, let alone a credible assurance that it won’t happen again," the letter states.

The lawmakers say the lack of progress is particularly concerning given the fact authorities in other countries such as South Korea have been able to review the captured data and identify hundreds of thousands of affected consumers.

"As more and more personal information winds up on the Internet, we need to make sure that private data is as safe and secure as possible," Barrow said.

"That means ensuring that the companies handling this information are responsible and accountable, and Google owes the folks who use their service an explanation of how this security breach was allowed to take place and what steps they are taking to ensure something like this never happens again."

The letter asks the FCC to conduct a full investigation, including speaking to the engineer Google claims is responsible for collecting and storing over 600 gigabytes of data.

"It is difficult to understand how just one individual could have been responsible for a data collection operation of this scale," the letter states.

Update: Google sent the following response this afternoon:

"As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks. As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all WiFi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities. We did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products and services. We want to delete this 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.”

This story was updated at 6:11pm.