China’s version of Google Street View

December 12, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Kim photoI’m a bit behind on bringing you stuff I’ve discovered on latest threats to privacy and anonymity, so you might have heard about this one already. There’s a Chinese social networking site called City8. You’ll need our new Prime Minister’s fluent skills in Mandarin to crack the language on the site, but here’s the issue – City8 leaves Google Street View in the dust when in comes to 360-degree street-level imaging of extraordinarily high resolution.

City8 covers eight Chinese cities, hence the name I guess. Shanghai-based Easypano Holdings is the company that developed the software and they believe that ground level shots are part of a growing trend in online mapping. Ground-level shots are captured by special multi-lensed cameras mounted on cars which cruise the streets. Mmmm…this sounds awfully familiar if we recall that Google cruises streets in unmarked vans. The images can be zoomed, panned 180 degrees vertically and 360 degrees on the horizontal. Talk about a panoramic loss of privacy and anonymity! What caught me unawares was that City8 was rolled out one year before the launch of Google Street View.

Here’s the demo page in English, but you can’t zoom in or out. But this YouTube video will really show you the 3D capability of City8’s cameras – you don’t need to understand the language to get the idea of how invasive this technology might be. Apparently, City8 hasn’t encountered complaints yet over invasion of privacy – perhaps the Chinese don’t worry about this?? I’ve said before that social networking sites that offer ground-level images are a tension between private and public space. Whilst it’s no doubt great to get a snapshot of the location of a restaurant you’re about to head off to or explore a city, it’s not so great IMHO to have images of unsuspecting citizens going about their business. Here are some images I found tinkering around with the site – seems to me you can identify faces and license plates.

Go here and move the camera until you come across a car or two. The site seems to be a bit slow, so be patient as I really want you to check it out. Zoom in using the + button and then double click on the image to bring up the full screen view. Bet you can read the license plate numbers just like I could. Have a tinker around with the site. Might make you a tad worried about when and how we’re all snapped going about our business.

And just to make me hyperventilate comes the news that I’ve been fearing – the dreaded Google Street View has reached the streets of Sydney. I have a tendency to hide my face when using an ATM. I’m not trying to rob the darn thing, I just don’t like to be snapped doing such a daily thing as getting out money. So now I’ll have to run around the streets of Sydney in some sort of camouflage gear because I sure don’t want to get snapped by Google Street View. Here’s a shot of the Street View camera on the corner of Maroubra Road and Anzac Parade during November, lurking around waiting for you to come on by so they can immortalise your image. At least this car has Google emblazoned on it, so you might be able to duck out of sight if you’re quick enough.

I get tired of hearing the defense that Google is only doing what anyone armed with a camera in public can do. But how many of us wander around daily or cruise in unmarked vehicles taking snap after snap after snap of Joe Citizen? I sure don’t and I’m an avid photographer. This is targeted, purposeful snapping of images, not amateur photographers taking holiday shots of the city landscape.

So my fellow Sydney-siders with a tendency to be paranoid about privacy issues, whatever you do make sure you don’t wander the streets of Sydney picking wax out of your ears a’la Kevin Rudd or stand on a street corner for too long because you might find yourself on Google maps for all the world to see.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald


Entry filed under: China, Google, Privacy, Social networks, Surveillance society.

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