US drops Google Street View investigation

US federal regulators have closed an investigation into Google’s Street View maps service, saying the company has taken steps to address privacy concerns raised by its improper collection of emails and other personal information.

US drops Google Street View investigation

The Federal Trade Commission said in a letter to Google that it was ending its probe with no penalties, a victory for the world’s largest Internet company, though it still faces multiple privacy challenges abroad as well as from more than 30 US state prosecutors.

Just this week, the UK’s watchdog announced plans to make further inquiries and to consider whether to use enforcement powers after Google admitted that the WiFi-equipped vehicles it sends to take photographs for Google Maps had inadvertently also grabbed emails and passwords.

The Information Commissioner’s Office had said in August that it believed Google’s cars were unlikely to have captured significant amounts of personal data.

Prosecutors in Rome are also investigating whether Google’s Street View service violated privacy laws, a judicial source told Reuters.

But the FTC commended Google for building consumer privacy into its corporate structure, such as by appointing a director of privacy for engineering and product management, training key employees on privacy, and building a formal privacy review into the early phases of new initiatives.

“Because of these commitments, we are ending our inquiry into this matter at this time,” David Vladek, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, wrote in the letter.

Regulators around the world have been increasingly vocal about protecting consumer privacy on the internet at a time when companies from Google to Microsoft to Facebook are collecting vast amounts of information about consumers’ online habits and using the data to help marketers target their ads.

Google’s alarming admission last week – confirming it collected entire emails and passwords – only heightened our concerns about how and why this data was collected

Besides Britain and Italy, regulators in France, Germany, Spain and Canada have opened investigations into Google’s Street Views cars, which crisscross the globe to take panoramic pictures of city streets.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who leads a coalition of more than 30 states, said their investigation into Google’s alleged invasion of privacy continues despite the FTC decision.

“Google’s alarming admission last week – confirming it collected entire emails and passwords – only heightened our concerns about how and why this data was collected,” he said in a statement.

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