Google Street View: coming to a street near you

August 23, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Jim Thompson’s house ThailandIn a recent post, Is Privacy a Fading Human Right?, I talked about Google Street View and raised concerns about infringement of anonymity and privacy. Well for those of us concerned about Google’s unmarked vans cruising neighourhoods (in the US) snapping innocent citizens (and animals) going about their daily business, the Google Earth and Maps team has helpfully published a list of cities they’re about to hit with their cameras.

They’ve now expanded to San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston and Orlando. Like the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego apparently features high-resolution imagery (presumably better zooming ability and better quality photos you can be identified by). Google continues to insist that “…Street View only features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street.” Legally correct but morally? Check out these hapless citizens caught in embarrassing or awkward moments – here and here.

And why does Google drive around in an unmarked rather sinister looking dark van – check it out here. Could they be concerned that if Average Citizen saw a Google-emblazoned van nearby, with a camera lens sticking out of the window that said Citizen might be on the alert and walk off before the camera clicks or, even better, walk up to the van and ask what the heck are the dudes in that van doing? Google sometimes dumps the van and goes for a more discrete looking car – check out the gallery of cars they use here at Gizmodo Australian edition. Also on the Gizmodo site is a map of the US showing you where the Google Street View camera cars have been spotted so far. If Google says it’s only taking pictures in public places, then why the secrecy?

Thankfully, should the Street View cameras land in Europe, European law will give Google a run for its squillions. The European Court of Justice does not allow snaps for commercial use where people are identifiable. Google would need to notify the individual and seek explicit consent. Somehow I can’t imagine Google rushing up to the individual just snapped with a consent form in hand.

Now, in the UK, the Information Privacy Commissioner has published a code of conduct for public webcam use, which states: “Signs should be placed so that the public are aware that they are entering a zone which is covered by surveillance equipment … [These signs] should be clearly visible and legible to members of the public“. I can’t see how Google would be exempt from this.

And there plans for Australia? I’m looking into it!


Entry filed under: Google, Privacy.

Australian social trends 2007 How do you say ‘Big Brother’ in China?

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