Blog Posts » Google Streetview privacy still isn't acceptable

Google Streetview privacy still isn't acceptable

googlespyvsspyI don’t use Google Maps much, and streetview even less, but I was surprised to find out just how bad it is for privacy, I like most people assumed that it’s auto blurring technology would be pretty good, otherwise how could they be allowed to take photos of the entire country, surely the UK Information Commissioner’s Office would not have ruled that it didn’t  breach the Data Protection Act if there were peoples faces or licences plates clearly visible.

The images below were captured from streetview when I was looking at the location of a rude word recently found by The Sun, in under three minutes I discovered these, with more time I’m sure I would have found more.

The above images clearly show the faces of two people and a readable license plate, to be fair it did blur the dog so it wouldn’t be recognised.  I would guess that the faces were not blurred because the software has trouble identifying elderly faces, but if there is a problem with Googles software why would they roll out streetview and keep adding new imagery if it wasn’t reliable, especially with the current public concerns, Google have had a long time to get this right since streetview was first released and I am very dissapointed that they obviously still don’t take the public’s privacy seriously.

I know people can ask for images removed, but that really isn’t the point as I have mentioned in previous posts.

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  1. Anonymous

    because it’s not like when you’re out walking along the street anyone who happens to be on the street can see you…

  2. Yeah everyone on the street can see me, but I can see them too, also on most streets you don’t have several million people able to see you, this isn’t really the point though, Google promised us privacy in streetview but are not delivering that privacy.

  3. Christopher Schmidt

    I’m not aware of any ‘promises’ that Google has made: Can you give me a URL to such a promise published on the web?

    Regarding photography: In public spaces, you are 100% allowed to take any pictures you want (at least, in the US). There is no expectation of privacy, and if you did get questioned by the police, they would have nothing to charge you with.. (Granted, that never stops them, but.)

    I have wandered down the street taking pictures of every storefront, I have wandered the streets with a videocamera in my hand, recording, etc. I have never been questioned by police, and I would be very surprised if I was.

    In public, you have no expectation of privacy. The courts have stated this over and over again, and this is not a legal problem for anyone performing this type of service. (A social problem is an entirely different matter.)

  4. stryx

    Those living in England have bigger privacy issues than StreetView to worry about.

    From a November 2006 BBC story:

    There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.

    The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.

    “We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.

    “We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”

    The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

  5. Chris I would say the promise is implied, and every non-techy I speak to assumes this is the case, but after your question I did do a bit more research, the only thing official regarding street view I could find is clever wording it seems to imply auto blurring but doesn’t state it, also again it doesn’t state it, I guess I underestimated the Google legal team, they are good.

    In theory I could walk around town taking photos or video of everything, in practice I would at the very least get a black eye, and there seems to be some question as to taking photographs of people even in public places is legal the ECHR may consider it illegal and photographers are advised to be careful, whatever that means.

    Also, as I pointed out, an individual taking photographs can be seen by the people he is taking photographs of, with street view this is not the case.

    Stryx unfortunately there is little that can be done about those issues, I do not like the situation at all and have voted against our current party, there isn’t much more I can do, yes I could complain on this blog, but there are already lots of other blogs covering the issues much better than I could, plus this is still really a GIS related blog not a political one.

  6. Although I agree that Google should watch what private data it is blasting all over the place I am for a more liberal use of it. Would I be upset if I were caught on streetview ? Probably only if I was in a compromising context. My local photo society is protesting for the current “anti terror” photo restrictions being dropped. There are already enough rules that cover military sites or that can be used by the Police.

    What is worrying is that Google are so lax about these issues. They are too big and their “do no evil” moniker assumes and awful lot. Hopefully Microsoft’s recent move into search engines will give them something to think about.

  7. Agreed Barney, it’s more Google’s attitude that annoys me, and that people forget it is all about profit for them, I agree privacy laws are getting stupid over here, they only seem to protect the wealthy or Government too which is worrying. There was a nice Panorama on Monday night regarding privacy vs the free press, it seems that celebrities can sue you for taking photos of them on public land from public land, and not surprisingly this all seems to stem from mis-used European laws.

  8. KoS

    Bull…may want to read up on the Germans problem with StreetView and Google. It is interesting what counties Google plays games with, while others they don’t, like China. They don’t dare run afoul of their authorities unlike in Germany or UK.

    There is one angle people could use. Not sure what the UK or even US laws are regarding height restrictions to what is considered private vs. public. But in Japan, Google had to reshoot all their images since it was taken at too high a height.

    Personally, I have mix feelings about all this. I guess the good out weights the bad uses, but I tend to focus or worry more about the bad uses.

    Keep up the good work as always.

  9. Thanks KoS, I’m waiting for the street view images of my area to come out, we have a nice Government facility which has signs saying no photographs, and I know Google went past it, it will be interesting to see if they obey those signs as I think the terrorism act is involved, of course Google won’t get in trouble, they never do.

  10. Hi there, do you have an RSS Feed I might subscribe to?

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