Privacy watchdog, lawmaker push for Google probe

Calls for federal investigation come after FCC found no legal fault with Google's collecting of personal data on Wi-Fi networks

Privacy groups and lawmakers are calling for a new and broader investigation into Google and its privacy practices after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced that it found no evidence that the company broke eavesdropping laws.

Late last week, the FCC reported that there was no legal precedent to find fault with Google collecting unprotected home Wi-Fi data, such as personal email, passwords and search histories, with its roaming Street View cars between 2007 and 2010.

However, the FCC did fine Google $25,000 for obstructing its investigation.

A Google spokesperson took issue with the fine.

"We disagree with the FCC's characterization of our cooperation in their investigation and will be filing a response," said the spokesperson in an email to Computerworld. "It was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we did nothing illegal. We have worked with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a national privacy watchdog, disagreed with the FCC findings.

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today, EPIC asked that the Department of Justice investigate Google's surreptitious collecting of Wi-Fi data from residential networks.

"Given the inadequacy of the FCC's investigation and the law enforcement responsibilities of the attorney general, EPIC urges the Department of Justice to investigate Google's collection of Wi-Fi data from residential Wi-Fi networks," wrote Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the advocacy group.

"By the [FCC's] own admission, the investigation conducted was inadequate and did not address the applicability of federal wiretap law to Google's interception of emails, usernames, passwords, browsing histories and other personal information," Rotenberg added

U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, has also stepped into the fray.

"The circumstances surrounding Google's surreptitious siphoning of personal information leave many unanswered questions," Markey said today in an email to Computerworld. "I believe Congress should immediately hold a hearing to get to the bottom of this serious situation."

Markey has a history of involvement in high-tech privacy issues.

For instance, Markey and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) late last September jointly pushed the FTC to investigate Facebook's tracking of its users even after they log out of the site.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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