Google's "Street View" viewing too much

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Marijuana spotted in a house window

A concern over the privacy of Canadian citizens has put Google’s Street View software into hot water with Canada’s Federal Privacy Commissioner.

“When the software was released in May, it was apparent that some pictures showed people’s faces,” Colin McKay, spokesperson for the Privacy Commissioner’s office, said. “[Our office] was concerned that there may be privacy issues if the program were to reach into Canada.”

An extension could prove difficult, as Canadian Privacy laws are quite different from American ones, Margaret Ann Wilkinson, a professor of law at Western, explains.

“In Canada, and especially in Québec, there is virtually blanket personal data protection, as opposed to America where the laws are much more lax.”

The Street View program is currently available in nine different American cities, including Los Angeles and New York. Vans with cameras mounted on the roof drive set routes along the streets, with specialized hardware taking images of the surrounding area.

Using the software, a person is able to rotate their perspective around these routes, and zoom in to a limited degree. It is this zoom function that has drawn the most controversy.

Websites sprang up after the program was launched, pointing out nude sunbathers, and even a marijuana plant in a street-side window.

But Google claims extending this operation in Canada will be done with the utmost care.

“At Google, we take privacy very seriously,” a spokesperson for Google explained. “[Google] abides by the local laws of the countries in which we operate.” The spokesperson outlined some of the steps Google has taken to avoid displaying “inappropriate or sensitive imagery.”

“Each Street View imagery bubble contains a link ... users can report objectionable images. [These images] include nudity, certain types of locations (such as domestic violence shelters) and clearly identifiable individuals.”

The Privacy Commission became especially concerned after they learned a Canadian partner of Google, Calgary-based Immersive Media, provided Google with imagery of Canadian cities.

A representative from Immersive Media admitted they collected imagery from cities, but said the images are not available to the public.

At this point, talks continue between the Privacy Commissioner’s Office and Google. Whether Street View will make its way into the Canadian market remains to be seen.

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