Federal Communications Commission regulators are investigating Google's Street View cars and the capture of users' personal information, from complete email addresses to passwords, an FCC official said Wednesday.
The FCC's decision to pursue an investigation dramatically raises the stakes for Google (GOOG), which has been saddled with inquiries across the globe and a multi-state investigation in the U.S. for its Street View program. Google's Street View cars cruise the streets in a given community, cpturing photos of homes, buildings, streets and other environmental features for use on the company's Google Maps feature.
"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, Enforcement Bureau Chief of the Federal Communications Commission. "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."
That's likely to please the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which in May sent a letter to the FCC asking the agency to pursue an investigation.
With the FCC investigating the case, it adds another layer of pressure on the Internet giant. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission said it was dropping its probe in light of the changes Google made after the privacy debacle. The Internet giant, for example, hired a privacy director for engineering and product management.
"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," said a company spokesperson. "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."
Addressing questions and concerns may aid the Internet giant in avoiding any potential levies or fines. According to a Wall Street Journal report, fines of up to $50,000 per violation may result from intention violations.