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Reps Seek Info On Google Wi Fi Data Harvest

The co-chairmen of the House Privacy Caucus have stopped just short of calling for an investigation of Google over revelations that it gathered private information transmitted over wi-fi networks, though the clear undertone of their message is that one should be in the works, if not already underway.

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday (May 19) Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) pointed out that the company has admitted that it collected private e-mail and net surfing data, but said it has not clarified the nature or extent of the data it collected as part of its street view mapping initiative. In addition to just pictures, the legislators point out, the company recorded wi-fi signals and their accompanying identifying information.

Markey and Barton have asked for responses to a number of questions including whether the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the matter.  If so, they also want to know what the FTC knows about how the data was stored and who had access to the data, whether Google's actions violate the public's "reasonable expectation" of privacy,if its actions be an unfair and deceptive practice that could harm consumers, and if Google's actions are illegal under federal law, whether the FTC has the authority to take action.

They gave Google until June 2 to respond.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is currently working on privacy legislation aimed at protecting private data from being collected without the user's knowledge or consent.

After an audit of its Street View initiative that collects wi-fi data for Google Maps and other location-based applications, Google conceded in a blog post that it had not only been collecting the names and wi-fi router addresses, but also data sent over the networks. But it 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.

But that was cold comfort for some Google critics. One of the most prominent, Scott Cleland, president of Precursor LLC and chairman of network neutrality reg opponent, said the government ought to investigate what he calls either gross incompetence, negligence, or wrongdoing.

He says it would be "very surprising" if the FTC does not investigate, but says don't look for the FCC to weigh in.  "Don't expect the FCC to see any need to respond to the data-driven evidence of Google's actual wanton 'wardriving' of the nation's last hundred feet [of broadband] to the home, because this FCC is preoccupied with preventing potential last mile problems everywhere in the country -- except for [Google home base] Mountain View, California."

That is a reference, in part, to the FCC's exclusion of content and application providers like Google from the network neutrality regulations the FCC majority has suggested are a key complement to the national braodband plan.

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