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Google, Apple in regulators' cross hairs again

June 11, 2010 |  4:05 pm

What happens with Silicon Valley companies is not staying in Silicon Valley.

Regulatory scrutiny is on the rise as two of the region’s most prominent companies find themselves at the center of two different online security and privacy brouhahas that are getting attention in Washington.

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that it would increase scrutiny of online security and privacy issues in the wake of security breaches involving Apple Inc.'s iPad and Google Inc.'s inadvertent collection of private data by its fleet of Street View cars.

This follows the news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is opening a probe into the iPad security breach that exposed the personal information of AT&T Inc. customers, including some heavy hitters in Hollywood, government and business.

Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC's consumer and governmental affairs bureau, said in a blog post that the iPad incident appeared to be a classic security breach.

The Google incident involving the collection of personal information sent by consumers over unsecured wireless networks raised important concerns, he said. 

“Whether intentional or not, collecting information sent over WiFi networks clearly infringes on consumer privacy,” he wrote.

It was the FCC's first public comment about the Google Wi-Fi incident, but the issue is getting plenty of attention on Capitol Hill. In a letter released by three U.S. congressmen who are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the matter, Google said it didn't believe the act of collecting the information was illegal.

"We emphasize that being lawful and being the right thing to do are two different things, and that collecting payload data was a mistake for which we are profoundly sorry," wrote Pablo Chavez, Google's director of public policy.

He repeated Google's earlier assertions that it did not know it was gathering the data and that it never used the information it collected.

The attorneys general of Missouri and Connecticut are investigating the matter, and several more are considering probes. Google also faces inquiries in other countries. Authorities in Australia, Germany, Italy and Spain are looking into whether there were any criminal violations.

Google is also trying to consolidate the eight lawsuits filed against it in California over the incident.

-- Jessica Guynn