FTC Backs Off Google in Privacy Breach Inquiry

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U.S. regulators are letting Google off the hook for inadvertently collecting private data through its Street View cars.

The Federal Trade Commission is satisfied enough with privacy-boosting efforts Google has taken since the breach occurred, Reuters reports. At least in its home country, Google won't be penalized.

The uproar over Google Street View began in May, when Google admitted that its cars were accidentally gathering information transmitted over unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Google said it only meant to gather basic network data, such as SSID information, but ended up sniffing much more due to some code left intact from an earlier experimental Wi-Fi project. After a third-party consulting firm discovered the problem, Google stopped gathering Wi-Fi data altogether.

In giving Google a pass, regulators noted a few new privacy initiatives, announced last week. The company hired a director of privacy, Alma Whitten; pledged to improve privacy training for engineers, product management and legal teams; and plans to start an "information security awareness program" for all employees. Also, Google says all new projects will require a "privacy design document" for internal use, showing how user data is handled.

Announcing the privacy changes, Google also slipped in the admission that it collected more data than it initially thought, in some cases including entire e-mails, URLs and passwords.

Other countries are giving Google a harder time over the breach. Canada and Australia, for instance, have condemned the Street View gaffe as illegal, but it's not clear whether they'll take action. In fact, Canada's ultimatum that Google implement new privacy policies or face further action would seem to be satisfied now.

While privacy policy changes will probably be enough to pacify regulators, some people will settle for nothing less than a check. Google still faces lawsuits from individuals in at least eight cases.

Personally, I find it hard to get outraged at the situation when it has no direct effect on me (it wouldn't even if my Wi-Fi network was unsecured). If Google's big talk about privacy changes actually lead to fewer foul-ups, like Google Buzz, this whole ordeal will work out for the best.

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