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Cable Operators

Uproar Over Google’s Wi-Fi Data Harvest

5/24/2010 10:35 AM Eastern

Washington — The co-chairmen of the House Privacy
Caucus have stopped just short of calling for an investigation
into Google over revelations that the company gathered
private information transmitted over Wi-Fi networks,
though the clear undertone of their message is that such a
probe should be in the works, if not already underway.

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission Chairman
Jon Leibowitz, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe
Barton (R-Texas) on
May 19 pointed out
Google has admitted
it collected private email
and data on Internet
surfing, and
said it has not clarified
the nature or
extent of the information
it collected
as part of its Google
Street View mapping
initiative.

In addition to taking
pictures, the
legislators noted,
Google recorded Wi-
Fi signals and their
accompanying identifying
information.
Markey and Barton
have asked for responses to a number of questions including:
Is the Federal Trade Commission investigating the matter?

If so, the legislators want to know what the FTC knows
about how the data were stored and who had access to it,
whether Google’s actions violate the public’s “reasonable expectation”
of privacy and if this is an unfair and deceptive
practice that could harm consumers.

If Google’s actions are illegal under federal law, the FTC
has the authority to take action.

The lawmakers gave Google until June 2 to respond.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is currently working on privacy
legislation meant to protect private data from being
collected without the user’s knowledge or consent.

After an audit of its Street View initiative, which collects
Wi-Fi data for Google Maps and other location-based applications,
Google conceded in a blog post (http://googlepublicpolicy.
blogspot.com/
) that it had been collecting the
names and wi-fi router addresses and data sent over the
networks. Google said its initial denial of collecting data
was a mistake, as was collecting that data, which it said it
never used. Google has said it grounded the Street View
cars collecting the data and will make it inaccessible.

An FTC spokeswoman confirmed the agency had received
the letter, but had no comment on its contents.

September