Google Street View invades your privacy

September 14, 2007 at 3:00 am 2 comments

Kim photo of glass bowlI’ve been sidetracked by my latest readings on polar exploration – thought I needed time off from worrying about how every day our privacy is getting eroded. But I’m returning from being immersed in polar adventures to bring you today’s post on Google Street View and my new hero (well, heroine) the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart.

I’ve commented on Google Street View before (check out the posts in the Google category). And I’ve said that, IMHO, Google is riding roughshod over our privacy by cruising around in vans snapping pictures of unsuspecting citizens for all the world to see.

Well, the Canadian Commish is challenging Google Street View – you can read her letter to Google here. Why is Canada wading into the fray and worrying about privacy? Because the Street View technology was developed in partnership with a Canadian firm, Immersive Media, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta and their GeoImmersive database is stuffed full of images of citizens going about their business. Canada’s privacy legislation extends to business via the Personal Information Protection & Electronic Documents (PIPEDA) Act. PIPEDA states that Canadian businesses “that wish to collect, use or disclose personal information about people generally require individuals’ consent, and they may only use or disclose that information for the purpose for which individuals gave consent.

So because of their partnership with Immersive Media, Google potentially comes under Canadian privacy legislation and the knowledge and consent of individuals being snapped appears to be required. The Commish is of the opinion that Street View images “.. are of sufficient resolution and close enough to allow individuals to be identified, to discern what activities they are engaged in and to situate their geographic whereabouts“. Street View hasn’t reached Canada yet, but if and when it starts snapping Canadian images, Google could be violating Canada’s privacy legislation big time.

No kidding: check out this image for example. I can sure see faces pretty clearly and the geographic location is obvious. To request removal of an image on Street View, you initially had to go through hoops – cough up a driver’s license and other info to prove you are the person in the image. A lot of work for some poor person who never suspected they’d end up on a Street View image. Google very quietly changed this policy and now anyone can request an image be taken down. A request is not limited to the owner of an identifiable image. But Google never publicly announced this policy change and Google doesn’t remove the images – you still have to go through the hoop of requesting the image be zapped as far as I can see. So firstly you need to be aware that your identifiable image is floating around in cyberspace and then you need to know that you can in fact request removal and, finally, you need to be conversant with Google’s request process.

I’ll be interested to learn about Google’s response to the Commish, if they bother responding that is.

Entry filed under: Google, Privacy.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. don johnson  |  September 15, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Sorry, but they’re shooting what anyone can see.
    I don’t think there’s anything illegal or improper
    in what they’re doing.
    Any photographer could shoot a street scene from
    the public street and publish it with as much chance
    of being seen as that of a google shot.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  September 16, 2007 at 1:20 am

    Privacy advocates I think are more concerned about the voyeuristic nature of some of the images. Check this out:

    Photos of girls in bikinis, a guy urinating, a woman in a car flashing her underwear .Do the paparrazzi do the same? to a lesser extent maybe – but they don’t go around in unmarked vans, city by city, snapping photos of unsuspecting people. At least celebrities are on the alert.

    Do photographers do similar? sure, but not so systematically, city by city, storing images in a database. You might not be worried that how your image can end up on the internet with a humiliating caption or simply showing you walking down the street – I would be. And it seems the Canadian Privacy Commissioner & privacy advocates are too.


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