US turns up heat on Google as probe set
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington and Richard Waters in San Francisco
Published: November 11 2010 01:31 | Last updated: November 11 2010 01:31
Google is facing a far more hostile environment in Washington than it has seen in years, including a new investigation by the Federal Communications Commission and tough criticism by a senior Republican lawmaker who has vowed to increase oversight of the group.
Michele Ellison, the enforcement bureau chief of the FCC, said the commission was probing whether the search group had violated the law following Google’s admission last month that it had collected passwords, e-mails and other private information from unsuspecting individuals. The information was gathered as Google’s Street View cars collected images of residential neighbourhoods for the company’s online mapping service.
The FCC’s announcement comes in the wake of a controversial decision by the Federal Trade Commission, the chief consumer protection watchdog, to abandon an investigation into the company. The FTC’s move was criticised by privacy advocates, who claimed the decision was premature.
But the FCC’s probe could represent just the tip of the iceberg for Google. One influential Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives, who will have new power following last week’s congressional elections, has signalled that Republicans will take a closer look at the Street View incident.
Joe Barton, a Republican who is vying to become chairman of the powerful House energy and commerce committee, said in a recent C-Span interview that it was virtually guaranteed that executives from Google would be asked to testify on Capitol Hill.
“There appears to have been a conscious effort to collect information,” Mr Barton said of Google. ‘‘It wasn’t just kind of accidentally gathered.”
Google said it was “profoundly sorry” for the data collection and that it did not want to, and never had, used the data.
“We want to delete the data as soon as possible,” the company said.
Meanwhile, Google will award its staff a 10 per cent pay increase at the start of next year and a holiday bonus, according to website Silicon Alley Insider.
Eric Schmidt, the chief executive, informed his 23,000 employees of the rise by e-mail, the Wall Street Journal later reported.
The internet industry is waging a “war for talent”, Google chief financial officer Patrick Pichette said on a call with analysts last month.
The FCC does not generally play a lead in investigating companies for privacy violations. But privacy advocates have pointed to a provision of the Communications Act that restricts the unauthorised intercept of communication “by wire or radio” without authorisation.
Additional reporting by Reuters
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. Print a single copy of this article for personal use. Contact us if you wish to print more to distribute to others.