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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Opting Out Of Google Street View?

Google doesn’t offer any way to opt out of their Street View program for one’s house in advance, as far as I know (think Google’s robots.txt but for locations; or should we consider general “no trespassing” signs to be the protocol here?). And if one asks Google to delete the imagery after publication – you can do this for certain stuff in Google Street View, even when it may be partly too late by then as people may have seen it already – Google still keeps the original photograph as a backup. Even when license plates and faces are blurred in the public Street View imagery, these internal photos are still unblurred, as Google once stated.

In a reply today, Google tells me:

When a takedown request is filed, the images will no longer appear in the public domain. This also means that images of this location will not reappear even if we gather updated imagery of the area. However, we have in fact had people request to re-instate images (such as a new resident of a specific home) so retaining the image allows us to do so. Additionally, retaining images is important for our work to improve and refine our tools such as automated blurring.

One noteworthy part here is that if Google keeps the stuff internally and doesn’t allow people any way to opt out for sure in advance... then a government in certain law contexts may be able to ask Google for that information to be released based on some court order (for instance, to check a license plate for a picture that was public but then went missing, or to gather the unblurred license plate for any other car currently visible in Street View, or to ask Google to release an unblurred face). The information was publicly available to begin with so it may not be of high specific interest, but even for public web servers, we have the option to put up “no crawling” policies which Google understands. What do you think?


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