Google Street View challenges idea of privacy in public places


In May 2007, Google launched Street View, an add-on to its Maps service that allows users to see and "drive" through images of streets and buildings. Almost immediately, the service provoked controversy when users realised that these images included pictures looking through the windows of their homes and images of license plates, or that caught them in embarrassing or even illegal situations on the street. Google argued that Street View only captured images taken on public property. In August, Google announced that users could request that their faces and car number plates be removed. The company went on to introduce technology that automatically blurs faces and licence plates. 

In Europe, the Article 29 Working Party asked Google to modify Street View to help it conform to European privacy requirements. The changes included providing advance notice before deploying image-capturing cars in a new country and announcing when and where they would be driving, and not keeping unblurred images of faces and car licence plates for longer than necessary. 

In addition, Germany forced Google to allow its citizens to request that it blur pictures of their homes as well as faces and number plates; in 2010, when Street View went live for the country's largest cities, the company said about 3% of German households had opted out.

Writer: Miguel Helft, Out-Law Blog, Peter Fleischer, Claire Cain Miller and Kevin J. O'Brien

Publication: New York Times, The Register, Google Europe Blog, New York Times Bits Blog

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