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Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

Posted April 09, 2009 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic, photographic, street-level views. A product of one of the Internet's leading companies, Google Street View has been available in the United States since 2007. Since then, it's expanded to include a total of nine countries.

Like many people, I've spent a fair bit of time googling my address, the addresses of my family, and even places I've never been - just because I could.

Sure, its fun to look up these places. But it's a bit creepy too, right? For example, when I look up my address, one neighbor is outside with his young child. I don't know my neighbor well enough to ask him how he feels about this, or even if he knows. So it made me wonder. What if I was trapped in time on Google?

When Time Stood Still

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Google Street View – or if it hasn't come to your country yet - this powerful feature from Google Maps allows users to zoom-in and see a specific location.

When a street appears, users can control the 360-degree view that allows them to turn-around, look up or down, and move in whichever direction they choose. For example, Google Street View lets me see Big Ben from my cubicle in Upstate New York and know that the time in London was 10 AM when Google passed through.

Google Street View is available for publicly-owned locations, including busy thoroughfares with many people and vehicles. In order to maintain the privacy of citizens, the application blurs faces and license plates in these images. But that doesn't reassure some privacy advocates.

Google Street View Controversy in the UK

In 2008, Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) ruled that the face and license plate blurring were sufficient enough to maintain personal privacy. However, Simon Davies of Privacy International claims that images of private citizens cannot be taken without their consent and for used commercial usage. The ICO did not rule on Davies' point in its 2008 decision, so this aspect of the law on privacy protection remains unclear.

Naturally, Google has a different point-of-view. In a recent recent BBC article, a Google spokesperson is quoted as saying that "the images in Street View are lawful. The Street View feature only contains imagery gathered on public property. The imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street."

Google also notes that there are tools for users to flag any "inappropriate or sensitive imagery". In addition, people can have Google remove their images if requested.. As Google's Laura Scott told the BBC, "We want this to be a useful tool and it's people's right to have their image removed."

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part 2 can be found here.

Resources:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7954596.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7952317.stm

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2330097.ece

http://news.cnet.com/cheating-husband-caught-on-google-street-view/?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

http://news.cnet.com/google-street-view-bring-back-the-vomiting-brit/

Kate's Controversies home

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#1

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/09/2009 7:16 AM

It was a hot topic here a couple of weeks ago, being all over the television news like a rash. One village, in particular, has got quite uppity about it, with the majority of residents requesting exclusion - whether there is an extraordinary amount of dubious behaviour going on there is difficult to say.

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#2

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/09/2009 9:42 AM

This is a good controversial topic Sharkles! Interestingly, the photo of my house is about two years old. It's from the summer time (green leaves on the trees) and my old car is parked out front. I totaled that car in January 2008, so the image must be from Summer 2007 or earlier. I wonder how often Google plans on updating the images?

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#7
In reply to #2

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/10/2009 9:36 AM

I'm not sure how often they plan on updating their images either, but I would be interested to know. When I looked up my Mother's house, it's just an empty plot of land... and the house has been there for quite awhile. I will try to see what I can find about this...

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#9
In reply to #2

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/10/2009 10:38 AM

Yes. A grad student I know at the college where I work saw his car in the driveway at his home many states away, where he hadn't been in a couple of years, I think. What's a little unnerving is, I think this means Google has been planning and working on this for some time without public knowledge of it. These privacy issues might have been raised from the get-go had people known what Google was up to.

I find it to be both promising but unnerving, in that -- what else is Google working on that we don't know about?

Unfortunately, the "information age" is already out of hand (read the book, "Nowhere to Hide") and promises to only get worse... of course, we can all call companies and speak to automated voice systems to voice our complaints and concerns.

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#11
In reply to #9

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/10/2009 11:44 AM

Guest, thanks for your comment. I have read the book Nowhere to Hide, and I attribute it to my fascination (and horror?) of privacy-related issues.

These privacy issues might have been raised from the get-go had people known what Google was up to.

I completely agree. If people had known in advance, at least they'd be on the lookout for the Google car. But for them just to drive through places, post the images, and say "hey, look at our cool new service" was asking for people to get upset. Like with anything else, honesty is the best policy.

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#3

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/09/2009 10:06 AM

I am one of those lucky people that live in such a country area that not even the satellite view can get a close look at my house. No google street view of my house for you! I guess I personally don't care unless I looked fugly in the picture or if I was doing something semiprivate like sunbathing.

I also don't think that just blurring faces is enough to protect peoples identity. For how popular this function of google is, they can afford to take a new picture when someone isn't outside their house within view. There has to be a healthy compromise.

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#4

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/09/2009 3:56 PM

Hi Sharkles - Great topic!

I have to admit, it was a little creepy when my friend in Hannover, Germany, who never visited me in my current town, surprised me in an email by commenting from afar on aspects of my house, located near Saratoga Springs, New York.

When he did it, I thought, very cool technology - I liked the idea of being able to browse through my development in 3-D and look at my home from various angles. But I did feel like my privacy, and that of my neighbors, was likely violated a bit.

Google's videographers captured my entire development on a bright, sunny day, likely while I was out at work. However, when I tried to Google Street View my friend back, and check out his apartment building in downtown Hannover, no joy - they hadn't gotten to his place yet. How unfair! :)

But on the up side, my wife and I have used SV on multiple occasions to precisely arrive at a location we never visited. For example, I used it to view a hotel and entrance from a main road for a recent after-work trip I took from Troy, New York to Hartford, Connecticut. Combined with Google Maps, I made not a single mistake in driving - arriving at my hotel in time to make a scheduled meeting - and the street-view photo of the hotel was what made my timeliness possible.

So I have mixed feelings, but am mostly positive about this, and think Google and the authorities will eventually find a solution to the privacy concerns folks are voicing.

- Larry

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#12
In reply to #4

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

12/09/2009 9:02 PM

we are being watched from inside our own minds

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#5

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/09/2009 11:59 PM

No more sunbathing in your birthday suit in your garden or you could and up on google street-view.

But seriously i think is Google's responsibility to erase any people from their pictures, furthermore i also thinks some people would oppose to seeing their house over the whole internet. But i guess the burglars/rapists/serial killers are happy with it makes scouting potential entry into houses much more easier

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#6

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/10/2009 7:26 AM

I have read an article, probably from here, about a man using google to look for, and prepare to steal, lead shingles from a church.

I've owned my home for right at four years, and in Google Earth, someone else still lives there.

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#8

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/10/2009 9:37 AM

Great comments everyone! I just wanted to let you all know that Part 2 of this story is now live.

Read it here.

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#10

Re: Look Out for Google Street View (Part 1)

04/10/2009 11:42 AM

Having read both Part 1 and 2, I will make this post to Part 1 as I believe it is more on topic here.

When we first read in the newspaper about Google Street View, I went in and checked it our. Sure enough, our house was on there! We were even able to tell when the picture was taken by the fact that some fairly recent work on the place had been done and some Hallowe'en decorations were still out. Pretty cool we thought.

Then decided to "tour" the neighborhood via GSV and headed up the street. It was interesting to watch a car "approaching" as we advanced the view. Then we realized that the car was just like ours. As it "passed" we could see the driver and it was my wife! Now, the picture is such that no one could ever recognize her after seeing the picture, but there was just enough detail (basically, hair length and color) for us to assume it was her. You couldn't make out the license number on the car either, but could guess that it was from our state.

So, the good news is that even though her picture was taken, neither my wife nor I feel that her privacy was violated because no one could tell who it was unless they already knew. The bad news is that this will probably eat into her "15 minutes of fame" and she really isn't getting any credit for it.

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