FTC lets Google off the hook over Street View data gathering

The FTC has closed its investigation into Google’s unauthorized collection of customer data with its Street View cars, concluding that the company’s now taken adequate steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Last week, the company admitted that it had harvested even more information than initially believed, including payload data such as passwords and email messages.

“This indicates that Google’s internal review processes – both prior to the initiation of the project to collect data about wireless access points and after its launch – were not adequate to discover that the software would be collecting payload data, which was not necessary to fulfill the project’s business purpose,” the FTC’s David C Vladeck told Google in a letter.

But, he says, Google has now addressed most of the FTC’s concerns by appointing a director of privacy for engineering and product management, improving staff privacy training and creating a formal privacy review process into the design phases of new initiatives. It’s also promised not to use the payload data and to delete it as soon as possible.

“Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter at this time,” says Vladeck.

But Consumer Watchdog says the FTC decision was premature.

“Once again, Google, with its myriad of government connections, gets a free pass,” says John M Simpson, director of its Inside Google Project.

“At a minimum, the public deserved a full report about Google’s abuses from the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Instead, the company announced a few steps that are little more than window dressing and the FTC caves in with a woefully inadequate two-page letter.”

But while Google may be off the hook in the US, investigations continue elsewhere. Germany, France and Italy are still conducting their own reviews.