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Google says Justice Dept. probed privacy issues associated with Street View

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April 26 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. said the U.S. Justice Department closed an investigation last May into the company’s use of specially equipped autos that collected wireless data for its Street View project.

Google’s disclosure about the inquiry was in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission today. The FCC proposed on April 13 fining the owner of the largest search engine for delaying the commission’s probe into improper data collection.

The Justice Department concluded last year that “it would not pursue a case for violation of the Wiretap Act,” Google said today in the FCC filing. The company said it “acted in good faith at all times” and will pay the FCC’s $25,000 penalty “to put this investigation behind it.”

“Google has cooperated fully with investigations around the globe,” the Mountain View, California-based company said in the filing.

Alisa Finelli, a Justice Department spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail and telephone call seeking comment.

“In promising to pay the bureau’s penalty, the company has rightly admitted wrongdoing,” Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “Going forward, important concerns about the privacy of unencrypted Wi-Fi communications remain.”

Google Delayed Inquiry

The FCC found Google had delayed its inquiry into data collection by specially equipped cars that cruised streets and took in wireless streams from homes and businesses for use in Street View, which uses images gathered from the cars to show homes, office buildings and roads.

For three years starting in May 2007, the cars collected content from wireless networks that wasn’t needed for that project, according to the FCC’s April 13 findings. Google gathered e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet-usage history and “other highly sensitive personal information,” the FCC said.

Google “grounded” its Street View cars upon learning of the unwanted data collection and has cooperated with investigations, the company said today.

Google has come under mounting scrutiny from regulators over how it handles information.

In October 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation of Street View after the company said it would improve privacy safeguards. Last year, Google agreed to 20 years of independent privacy audits to settle claims with the FTC that it deceived users and violated its own privacy policies with the Buzz social network.

‘Thorough Examination’

The FCC probe followed the trade commission closing its investigation and the Justice Department “conducted and long ago completed its own thorough examination of the facts,” Google said in today’s filing.

The FCC on April 13 said it had decided not to penalize Google for the Street View activities, with the penalty assessed for not cooperating in the investigation. Communications and wiretap law were unclear and a Google worker the agency identified as “Engineer Doe” had declined to testify, the FCC said.

The FCC didn’t repeat an initial request to speak to Engineer Doe once Google reported that the worker asserted his constitutional right not to cooperate,the company said.

Shares of Mountain View, California-based Google rose $5.70 to $615.42 at 1:59 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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