Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

Summary: The EU, concerned about privacy, wants Google to limit the amount of time it stores images for Google Street View but Google argues that 12 months

TOPICS: Legal, Google

Street View, the feature within Google Maps that allows users to see the actual view of the street on their screens, is under fire from officials in Europe.

Regulators with the European Union say that Google may be breaking EU privacy laws by storing the street view images for a year and want the company to cut that period down to six months, according to a Bloomberg report. Google, however, disagrees with the EU and is working with data-protection in the EU to explain why its year-long retention policy is justified. In a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg, a Google lawyer wrote:

The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified - to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users. We have publicly committed to a retention period of 12 months from the date on which images are published on Street View, and this is the period which we will continue to meet globally.

When Street View surfaced in the U.S. in 2007, there was some backlash as users spotted some funny - and embarrassing - things being picked up by the Google Street View camera. There was the guy walking into an adult book store, the girls sunbathing on the park lawn, the woman bending over to get something out of the backseat of her car (a position that showed more of her than she cared to show) and, of course, the guy who appeared to be breaking into a house.

Google has been responsive to the requests to have images blurred and many of the privacy concerns have faded over time. With Street View kicking into high gear in Europe, the complaints over privacy sound familiar.

Personally, I think the benefits of Street View outweigh the concerns over privacy, largely because Google isn't capturing images of anything that isn't available for the public to see. After all, the streets are in a public domain. If I walked around a town randomly taking pictures and happened to capture some guy walking out of a hotel with a woman that isn't his wife, then that's fair game. Maybe that guy should have left five minutes later or they should have used separate exits.

Granted, Google has no business capturing backyard skinny-dipping pool parties nor should it be heading up private driveways just for the sake of snapping a picture of someone's home. The point is, if it happened on the public street for anyone to see, why shouldn't Google be able to capture - and store - an image of it?

As for the benefit, I can offer one recent use case of my own. We've been searching for a new home in recent months and have sifted through listing after listing online. Thanks to Street View, we've been able to eliminate some of the houses we want to see because we've been able to "cruise around the neighborhood" and see beyond the pictures that the real estate agents post in their listings. No real estate agent is going to show you an image of a homeless shelter next door or gang members drinking 40s in the park across the street - but Google Street View will. And that saves me the trip out to that house for a drive-by look.

For Google Street View to remain effective, it needs to update those images regularly - after all, things change over time as new homes are constructed, businesses open and close or an entire street block becomes - and starts to look like - a foreclosure zone. These are the things people want to see.

It might help if Google issued advisories with local media of the towns where they'll be capturing street images. Even a blurb in the local newspaper or a reminder on local TV news that Google's Street View car will be cruising around town this week is enough to force the thieves to lay low or the beer-drinking gang members to move the party to someone's backyard - at least for that week.

update: Google tells me that there is a site where the company lists the cities that are being photographed for Street View.

Topics: Legal, Google

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  • Yeah, Your Benefits Outweigh My Privacy Concerns

    It's bad enough that random strangers can check details on little children whose names they hear in a restaurant (give your children generic names!) with a simple web search. Yes, there were phone books before, but not web sites that let you look up the frequency of a last name in a certain area, and a full listing of all household members anyplace, anytime.
    I don't need the creep in the booth next to me to get a complete checkup on whether our house is easy to break into as well. It's a big difference whether you can choose your victims from the easy chair and ascertain substantial details about their home, or whether you have to go there and be seen gauging your chances.

    Google should be required to post schedules for filming streets in advance in an easy-to-find place with sufficient time given to residents to opt-out at the least. In addition, you should be able to sign up for alerts when yours comes up.
    • is M$ paying you

      for this fabricated anger?
      Linux Geek
  • RE: Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

    If you are in public - it is public domain. Scaly acts should not
    remain so in the public. People do not have many rights - but
    most rights are privileges. Privacy is a privilege that is earned
    stick to the law, the moral law or for those relativists out
    there, the reasonable law that you would like done to others
    as to yourself and the other way around.
  • Invitation to theft and terrorism

    Detailed photos of homes, businesses and gov't installations on google can be used to plan crimes. The detail in the photos can aid those who want to understand the construction of a facility, security practices employed, if any, and to plan their escape routes. I agree that when in public, one is "fair game" but I think highly detailed photos of my home on google is an invitation to burglars more so than a boon to my or your freedom to see whatever is in the public eye.
  • Google is doing more than I care for them to do

    I really don't need my house photographed and stored online. I don't need my friends and family to track my every move, I don't want to be forced to use the cloud, etc...

    Google has shown that it doesn't care about privacy at all or they wouldn't be doing this. Google want's everything online and accessible. They don't care about copyrights or people's space at all.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Various uses

    I work for a law firm that occasionally sues patients who have received medical treatment for car accidents, etc., submitted the hospital's bills to the insurance company, and then pocketed the insurance money. One thing *I* use Street View for is to get an idea of the type of neighborhood where a person's last known address was. If it's a dumpy neighborhood, there's probably no point in trying to skip trace them. (Hospitals won't pay a skip tracing company, so we have to do our own searches.)

    Regarding notices of where Google will be photographing, for every action there is somebody who doesn't like it and who will go raising hell to anyone who will listen. That would not stop the ne'er-do-wells from doing things they don't want seen. It would just increase protests, complaints to the local town council, etc. One or two people threatening a lawsuit often is enough to cause politicians to raise all sorts of administrative roadblocks, for example, passing a town ordinance against photographing more than a certain amount of real estate per month, on the theory that it could be used by terrorists or burglars or could lower property values. The reasons don't have to be legit, since not even Google could afford to regularly get into endless legal fights.

    There is one major difference between the U.S. and E.U. and that is that in many parts of the E.U. real estate does NOT change on a regular basis. So even photos 10-15 years old would still be current. At most, window decorations might have changed or a few individual storefronts may be rented by a different company, like Apple replacing a clothing boutique.
  • Not many benefits.

    Okay, it's a cool feature - but after playing with it, I don't use it. What benefits does it really have?
  • RE: Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

    A recent Harvard grad's thoughts on the recent Google-Italy debacle and its illustration of the ideological dichotomy of liberty and privacy between the US and EU:
  • RE: Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

    "Google isn?t capturing images of anything that isn?t available for the public to see. After all, the streets are in a public domain. If I walked around a town randomly taking pictures and happened to capture some guy walking out of a hotel with a woman that isn?t his wife, then that?s fair game."

    lol why should people change their attitudes because you are capturing photos ?

    The argument street is a public domain is correct but what google does is it captures the pictures and uploads all the pictures into its server now web is also a public domain if in street 20 people see that guy with a woman now more than millions of people will see him !!! and again Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns only for dodo's
  • Embarassment and terrorism besides privacy

    The lady who bent down to pick up something from her car and exposed certainly did not expect the fleeting moment to live for months online and did not expose for a photograph.<br><br>Secondly terrorist in other countries can use this data for target identification and site assessment. Though this is a concern for some countries like India only. My view on Street view launch in Bangalore <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a>
  • RE: Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

    pvhmop,good post!
  • RE: Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

    piqmin,good post!