Privacy issues plague Google Street View - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Privacy issues plague Google Street View

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A Google Street View vehicle is parked in Prattville, AL, with its special camera hidden under a black tarp atop the vehicle. (Source: RNN) A Google Street View vehicle is parked in Prattville, AL, with its special camera hidden under a black tarp atop the vehicle. (Source: RNN)
The Google Street View camera takes panoramic photos. (Source: Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons) The Google Street View camera takes panoramic photos. (Source: Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons)
A Google trike with a mounted camera surveys Cambridge Bay in the Canadian Arctic. (Source: CambridgeBayWeather/Wikimedia Commons) A Google trike with a mounted camera surveys Cambridge Bay in the Canadian Arctic. (Source: CambridgeBayWeather/Wikimedia Commons)

(RNN) – Google Street View, the global panoramic imagery project that began in 2007, has documented an immense stretch of the globe. Along the way, it has encountered controversy, legal battles, protests and fines.

Mounted on cars, backpacks, trolleys, snowmobiles and trikes, the Google Street View cameras have recorded imagery from the narrow streets of Barcelona to the rocky terrain of the Grand Canyon.

Sensors that measure GPS, speed and direction match each image to the geographic location on the map. Those sensors can reconstruct the camera's route and adjust the images as needed.

Google has admitted, though, that it has collected more than just imagery in its travels.

Many countries around the world launched investigations, and Google admitted in 2010 it had gathered device IDs for unencrypted Wifi hotspots and user-assigned network ID names.

"As of 2012, investigations have gone forward in at least 12 countries, and at least nine countries have found Google guilty of violating their laws," the Electronic Privacy Information Center reported.

In the U.S., the FCC fined Google $25,000 in April 2012 for allegedly obstructing an investigation into the data collection by Street View, according to the New York Times.

In one English village, residents did not welcome the Google Street View vehicle with open arms.

According to the Guardian, neighbors in the village of Broughton foiled the photos in 2009 by forming a human shield between the street and the Google Street View camera. The residents objected because they were concerned the photos would allow criminals to case their neighborhood without them even setting foot in it.

Switzerland took Google to court, forcing the company to comply with privacy-saving modifications before the company was allowed to proceed.

"Those conditions would require Google to lower the height of its Street View cameras so they would not peer over garden walls and hedges, to completely blur out sensitive facilities like women's shelters, prisons, retirement homes and schools, and to advise communities in advance of scheduled tapings," the article stated.

The court ruled in 2012 that Google does not have to guarantee 100-percent blurring of faces, license plates and the like - 99 percent is sufficient.

Google stresses that its imagery isn't real-time and is only of items visible from public-access roads.

"Our images show only what our vehicles were able to see on the day that they drove past the location," it noted. "Afterward, it takes at least a few months to process the collected images before they appear online. This means that images you look at on Street View could be anywhere from a few months to a few years old."

Google Street View images are now automatically scrubbed of things considered a violation of privacy, including faces and license plate numbers.

"This means that if one of our images contains an identifiable face (for example that of a passerby on the sidewalk) or an identifiable license plate, our technology will automatically blur it out, meaning that the individual or the vehicle cannot be identified," Google stated.

Those who encounter questionable images can alert Google via a link located at the bottom-right of the image window.

Google Street View imagery is available for locations all across the continental U.S. and in certain areas of Alaska, Canada and Hawaii. it also has gotten practically all of Europe, most of Australia, all of New Zealand, large swaths of South America, as well as Israel, Japan, South Korea and Botswana.

Some areas have been very lightly touched or not touched at all – for instance, most of the African continent, Russia, Germany, China and most of central Asia and the Middle East.

Currently in the U.S., the Google Street View vehicles are collecting images in 24 states.

Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The name "Google" is a play on the word "googol," the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeroes.

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