US FTC asked to investigate Google Wi-Fi 'snooping'

There is 'no reason to trust' Google, Consumer Watchdog says

A consumer group has called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google after the search company revealed that it had been collecting people's Internet communications from open wireless networks.

On Friday, Google said it would stop its Street View cars from sniffing wireless networks after discovering that they had been collecting unencrypted content - the contents of Web pages, for example -- unbeknownst to Google.

Consumer Watchdog says the FTC should find out exactly what Google logged, how long it collected the information and what it ended up doing with it. "Google has demonstrated a history of pushing the envelope and then apologizing when its overreach is discovered," the group said Monday in a press release. "Given its recent record of privacy abuses, there is absolutely no reason to trust anything the Internet giant claims about its data collection policies."

Google was collecting the Wi-Fi data -- SSID (Service Set Identifier) information and MAC (Media Access Control) addresses -- in order to get better location information for its Google Maps service.

But after being asked to audit the information by a data protection authority in Hamburg, Germany, Google discovered that it was actually collecting "payload data" -- the content of IP packets -- as well. A Google engineer had added the capability to an experimental version of the project four years ago and it was never removed, Google said.

"We are acutely aware that we failed badly here," Google said in a blog post about the mistake.

Google could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, but in an update to its Friday blog post the company said that over the weekend it had destroyed the data collected in Ireland, and was reaching out to data protection offices in other countries to see how to proceed with the rest of the information.

(Robert McMillan can be reached at robert_mcmillan@idg.com. He is on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/bobmcmillan)

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Robert McMillan

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