The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is investigating whether Google broke federal law when it collected private user data, including e-mails and passwords, from Wi-Fi networks, an FCC official confirmed on Wednesday.
The FCC opened an investigation earlier this year. The agency likely wants to know if Google violated laws against electronic eavesdropping.
“Last month, Google disclosed that its Street View cars collected passwords, e-mails and other personal information wirelessly from unsuspecting people across the country,” said Michele Ellison, the FCC enforcement bureau chief, in a statement.
“In light of their public disclosure, we can now confirm that the Enforcement Bureau is looking into whether these actions violate the Communications Act. As the agency charged with overseeing the public airwaves, we are committed to ensuring that the consumers affected by this breach of privacy receive a full and fair accounting."
By contrast, the Federal Trade Commission dropped an inquiry into the Google breach after the company promised to improve its internal practices, prompting criticism from privacy advocates who say Google got off too lightly.
Google has said it collected the information inadvertently and has apologized.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the FCC's investigation on Wednesday.
UPDATED at 5:06 p.m. A Google spokesperson sent the following statement:
"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. As we assured the FTC, which has closed its inquiry, we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products and services. 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.”