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13 September 2019

Google Street View privacy concerns

google streetview 300x194 Google Street View concerns continue with the naked childThe Google Street View furor hasn’t died down in Europe since it was released last week in the United Kingdom and Netherlands.  The latest issue: naked kids.  But I think it sounds worse than it really is.

The UK’s The Independent on Sunday flamed Google pretty badly in an article this weekend after claiming to find an image of a naked child within Google Street View.  The Independent contacted Google and the image was taken down within an hour, but the paper made no bones about its view of the mapping technology.

The article clearly portrays Street View as a “gift to criminals”, quoting former crook Michael Fraser.  In fact, the entire German state of Schleswig-Holstein via town of Molfsee is considering legal action against Google claiming Street View imagery is a clear breach of Germany’s privacy laws, says the paper.

“We are not going to let this happen.  This is opening people’s houses and homes to criminals. All this information is taken back to the United States and being processed. This can’t be allowed,” Molfsee mayor Reinhold Harwart told The Independent.

Google responded to the allegations on its European public policy blog:

The Independent on Sunday published an article about our Street View cameras picking up a picture of toddlers playing in a small local park in London, one of whom appeared to be naked.

Since publication, the Independent on Sunday has agreed to correct the original story, which painted a highly misleading picture, but the article did raise serious issues about the inadvertent publication of photographs which may be inappropriate on a public platform.

The photographs in this case were not revealing. They showed a typical family picnic in a public park on a summer’s day, with children playing. It’s important to note that none of the images in Street View are live, they were taken last year. The child in question was some distance from the camera and could only be made out properly at the highest zoom level, meaning that the image already appeared blurred due to the low resolution. He or she was not facing the camera, so could not be identified. And where other people’s faces appeared in the image our automatic blurring tool had worked well, to make sure that none of the faces could be identified.

I would agree that Google could possibly put an image review program in place to prevent these types of situations in the first place. But a blurred image of a naked toddler from a year prior is hardly a tool to assist a potential criminal. Head to any real estate website and you’ll find pictures of houses. Go to Facebook or Flickr and you’re much more likely to find the kind of personal information crooks can leverage in their crimes. Sure, a few enterprising deviants like the roof-tile thief have used Google’s mapping products to assist in their crimes, but as Google said in its response to The Independent: let’s “keep things in perspective.”

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