US government drops Google privacy probe

Last Updated : 28 October 2010, 04:07 IST
Last Updated : 28 October 2010, 04:07 IST

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"Google has made assurances to the FTC that the company has not used and will not use any of the payload data in any Google product or service, now or in the future," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's office of consumer protection, said in a letter to Google.

"This assurance is critical to mitigate the potential harm to consumers from the collection of payload data. Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter at this time."

The FTC announced the probe in May after Google announced that it had "mistakenly collected" unencrypted network data. The admission followed an audit by privacy regulators in Hamburg, Germany, on the data collected by Google's vehicles in the area.
The company admitted for the first time on Friday that the data included email addresses and passwords transmitted over unencrypted wireless networks.

At the same time, Google said it had appointed a new director of privacy over both engineering and product management and was significantly increasing the number of personnel working with her.

The company will also increase training for engineers, product managers and legal employees on the responsible collection and use of data.

Starting from November all employees will be required to undertake a new information security awareness programme. All engineering project leaders will be required to maintain a privacy design document that records how user data is handled, Google announced.

"As we've said before and as we've assured the FTC, we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products or services," Google said in a statement welcoming the decision.

But several prominent privacy agencies said the government was wrong to end its inquiry at a time when European regulators were stepping up their probes into Google's privacy policies.

They also questioned whether the decision had been influenced by the close ties between the Obama administration and Google's top executives.

"Our fear is that Google gets special treatment. The president is raising money from top Google officials," Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Centre for Digital Democracy, told the San Jose Mercury News, a Silicon Valley newspaper.

"Google is a Democratic darling in many ways. Google needs to be investigated, and not given a free pass," he said.

Published 28 October 2010, 04:07 IST

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