Google Australia is expected within months to launch an application that will publish highly detailed, street-level photos of much of Australia, in a move that has drawn strong criticism from privacy advocates.
Google’s picture-snapping cars have been cruising Australia’s suburbs since late last year, with pictures of thousands of homes expected to be uploaded to the internet with Street View’s launch.
While Google has defended the project, the internet company baulked when The Weekend Australian requested the personal details and addresses of the group’s key figures to allow the paper’s photographers to take pictures of their homes. “Providing those details would be completely inappropriate,” said Google spokesman Rob Shilkin.
The article then goes on to share several details about Google managers and the places they live in, obtained via searches and public documents. CNet was once boycotted by Google press for googling details about CEO Eric Schmidt, so who knows if Google will stop talking to The Australian now...
On the web, when you don’t want your website to be indexed, you can put up a robots.txt file. In the real world, there is no such standard yet to defend against Google’s car fleet taking snapshots of houses... unless perhaps a high fence, and general trespassing laws. Google’s Street View interface does have a feature though where you can request a take down of specific material after it went live. And the head of Google Northern Europe, Philipp Schindler, once explained: “In the cases where we found out it’s necessary to introduce special privacy protections, we reacted prior to launch. For instance, you won’t find images of accommodations for the homeless, or abortion clinics.”
Update: The Sydney Morning Herald has more, including quotes by Google’s Marissa Mayer who said when it comes to protecting privacy, Google was a the mercy of “flaws of the real world and human error.” Marissa said, “If the road isn’t very clearly marked as a private road, or if the driver misses a sign, there will be occasional places where we make a mistake.” Marissa also said Google was developing technology to blur faces and car number plates but that they weren’t sure if this would be ready for the Australian launch. (Valleywag’s comment: “if it’s anything like the algorithms used to detect copyright infringement on YouTube, we’ll be living in the Matrix before it’s done.”)
I’m curious how this will play out over the world; maybe technology will become more privacy-sensitive, or maybe culture will become less privacy-oriented, or maybe new laws start limiting mass aggregation of public data. In Europe, a Street View service as it is now may already face legal challenges, as in some countries here there are more restrictions on republishing pics taken in public.
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