Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

Summary: Street View is just too great a liability for the company as currently conceived. They're already seen as Big Brother and any more scandals will be too damaging to the brand.

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Earlier this week, I noted that Google had managed to assuage US regulators with assurances of improved privacy practices all around, particularly in regards to their Street View WiFi data collection debacle. Now the company is making headlines again with the latest round of criticism out of the UK over broader Street View issues. It's either time for Street View to go or for Google to make some radical changes to its enhanced mapping.

London's Telegraph reported today on Parliament's scathing criticism of Google's Street View gaffes:

Mark Lancaster, a Conservative MP...accused the search engine of a "staggering" invasion of privacy of [a women and children's shelter], which houses women and children who have fled abusive homes and therefore depend on the building's "anonymity".

Members of the British Parliament went on to criticize their own Information Commissioner's Office who cleared Google of any wrongdoing in their WiFi data collection, calling the Office "lily-livered." They further called out Google for contributing to a growing surveillance state and questioned the motives for the Street View initiative.

In fact, Google's motivations are pretty clear, conspiracy theories aside. Google Maps needs to be the destination for all of your mapping needs. If Maps provides more information, faster, better, and in a more visually useful manner than any other competitors, it's more likely to get your eyes. Those eyes turn into ad revenue. This is Business 101 stuff.

The problem is that the technology is so powerful, pervasive, ubiquitous, and indiscriminate that Google itself has called any sort of opt-in technology around Street View "unworkable." And yet Google's new privacy czar explained the importance of Google's brand earlier this week, speaking to the Guardian:

"The main focus is to rebuild trust. There have been more unpleasant surprises than we would have liked in the past period and it's definitely a very big focus of mine to make sure that doesn't happen again...We're very aware that our business is based on the trust of users and if damaged [then] that's the worst thing we could do," said [Alma] Whitten.

While it's true that Google Street View only photographs public places, making those places, which obviously include private homes, hospitals, shelters, government agencies, etc., so easily searchable is not something for which most of the world is ready. If Google wants to rebuild trust, then Street View needs to go (at least for now and at least in its current format). It would be relatively easy for Google to partner with municipalities to leverage traffic cameras and other public surveillance devices to provide some degree of Street View functionality that would not leave such a bad taste in people's mouths. In fact, Google could easily spin this as an opportunity for users to better understand the video being shot of them by governments every day, as well as to provide better access to traffic information in real time (which is arguably more useful than Street View's static images).

Obviously, an approach like this would not be as comprehensive as the current vision of Street View, but as Whitten points out, if users turn away from Google because of anger and privacy concerns, then they're not going to be selling any ads anyway.

Topics: Google, Government, Government US

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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28 comments
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  • Google Is Run by Political Progressives

    nuff said
    Nesivos
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      very very good

      come :

      [ H T T P : / / T A .G G / 4 O R ]
      lincc350
      • Why use the word 'Nonsense'?

        @lincc350 Not sure why the word 'nonsense' is being used. Some views, including street views, may not make sense to you but they do to others. To have a strong opinion on these matters can lead to dogmatism and lack of the ability to view life from sufficient heights. Perhaps THIS kind of 'street view' is too short-sighted and close-minded.
        Dietrich Lasa
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      @Nesivos no
      Jimster480
  • If Google doesn't do it someone else will.

    If Google doesn't do Street View, someone else will--as a recent commenter from Germany pointed out.

    Like it or not, Street View is incredibly useful for many legitimate purposes. Sure, there will be the people who use it to check out police stations, banks, shelters, etc., for wrong purposes. But the vast majority of users use it for things like knowing what an unfamiliar neighborhood they will be traveling to looks like. Over and over I have tried to follow driving directions from various map programs only to find that the posted street name is completely different or the directions send me to a closed street. Street view provides landmarks such as department stores, pharmacies, and other high-profile buildings.
    Rick_R
  • Why not

    I like street view. Sometime map didn't give me clear idea how to find the place.
    FADS_z
  • Street View may have value for some uses, but.....

    it still strikes me as very Big Brother-ish.
    Userama
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      @Userama If it was a constant updating or even monthly updating process then yes it would be big-brother-esque, but how often do they update, sadly not often enough? I know areas that need to be updated and aren't which then puts strain on the other side of the spectrum too. Those that need up to date street view images.

      Google is very good at blocking out those places that don't want to be seen. Paranoid or not, you can do it and they will comply. I think its stuipid personally to have my home blocked as anyone and their dog can just as easily drive up my street and gather the same information that street view provides... in fact their personal view will be more accurate and if video recorded much better resolution then anything street view is putting out.
      quentinjs
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      @Userama i agree so why do people trust google?
      i mean how did they 'accidently' collect Wi-Fi data when taking photos?
      why do people agree to them having access to the contents of their gmail ?
      techguru@...
  • What's one more camera?

    I find it very amusing that people in the UK have a problem w/Streetview when Britain has more CCTV cameras than just about anywhere else in the world.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1205607/Shock-figures-reveal-Britain-CCTV-camera-14-people--China.html
    dp2sholly
  • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

    Why be concerned if a photo of your home is online. Are you concerned that pesky good for nothing relative will find out where you live? Or do you think burglars pick and choose their targets online? Or are you just unreasonably paranoid? If so get over it and get on with your life.
    shanedr
  • Big noise of little issue

    The proposed solution only works in the UK were citizens can be followed from the home to their work and everywhere in between. In the rest of the world it will not work we do not have that may CCTV cameras. Hiding shelters like they hid peoples faces or license plates of cars would only draw attention to that address as something a "bad" person would be interested in. We could all take the American's approach to abortion clinics and build no-go zone and make it look like war zone. Personally I don't think that is the way to go. If you stand buck naked in front of your window when the Google cars are photographing your street you should have public decency laws explained to you, not shutdown Google's Streetviews.
    ronald.warden@...
  • Robme.com

    Are these the same people that twitter about how they are enjoying the four week vacation, so that the crooks can just clean out their houses?
    ronald.warden@...
  • Real time street camera access

    Boy, would that be interesting. We could have all sorts of fun. Watching the preacher walking out of the liquor store with a big bag in hand, seeing where the speed traps are set-up, watching to see if little Suzie is really going into the library, seeing first hand if there really is a traffic jam like your husband claims to be stuck in on the way home. This could be a real can of worms. I think it could easily become adictive.
    Morti
  • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

    Why is my private home now "public?"
    tjakubow
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      @tjakubow
      Because an obscenely rich American company which fiddles its taxes through artificial tax dodges wants to make even more money and you are just a pawn in the capitalist game.
      Ian Orlebar
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      @tjakubow
      Is it visible from a public street?
      danindenver
    • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

      @tjakubow your private home was never private. Sorry to burst your bubble, but unless you have a 3 meter high wall all around your place then its VERY public and that has nothing to do with Google.
      quentinjs
  • From UK? Hypocritical!

    This sort of complaint coming out of London is a case of the teapot calling the silverware black - last I heard that city has the most "security" cameras of anywhere in the world watching every single street. They have 24-7 invasions of privacy!
    Htalk
  • RE: Will Google's Street View nonsense ever end? UK blasts them again

    Nobody has mentioned the 'Big Picture' yet, the real future for this stuff is now becoming apparent as the jigsaw falls into place.
    They don't have to put chips into everyone if we all agree to have our lives and homes and work-places on camera and just to confirm where we all are our 'Android Phones' will transmit our locations back to base, and our wifi time on the move will do the same. Not that many of us normal folks have anything to hide but all this surveillance and location mapping is sinister to say the least and its time it was stopped.
    Sometimes I wonder if we are really the androids because that is how we are being treated.
    bill.andersen@...