Google Street View has been out for some time now, and its proven to be a pretty nifty feature. Basically, Google has sent out teams of people in vans with cameras mounted on the tops to major cities across the US. They’ve been able to capture 360-degree panoramic views of most of the streets in these cities, so you can view the surrounding area on almost any point in the street. This is obviously a great feature for people who find that maps don’t provide the best experience of “getting to know a place”. With Street View, you get the best experience of seeing what a new place will be like, short of actually visiting it. It’ll be great for visitors. Google hopes to extend to feature to more cities as time goes on.
However, the new feature has obviously raised some privacy concerns, but perhaps not in the strictest legal sense. Since Google has taken these pictures from public areas, they’re probably in the clear. However, they is somewhat of a difference when these public pictures are being integrated into the largest search engine for everyone to see.
This isn’t first service that’s offered street views. Microsoft has also offered their own limited service, and as one blogger pointed out over a year ago, it would be cool if Google did the same. However, as pointed out in this article, Google Street Views are far more detailed and interactive. In addition to being able to rotate the view a full 360 degrees, you can zoom in. The level of quality in most pictures is quite good, so zooming actually produces good results, rather than just a larger blurry section of an image. You can easily see way down the street by zooming.
However, this has also raised what some have called “privacy concerns” – not in the “NSA wiretapping” sense, but rather in the “it’s freaky” sense. A list was quickly formed for the most intriguing Street View sightings, and people also found one of a guy digging for gold. In another more innocent list, we can see Steve Jobs’ Mercedes. In many of these images, you can easily see the faces of those involved. Now, while it’s true that you could have easily seen all of this yourself going for a stroll down the street, it’s somewhat different when a picture is taken and put onto one of the most popular search engine maps for all to see.
Google has provided some recourse, though. If there’s an offending image, you can submit a complaint to have it removed. Indeed, some of the more racier images have been removed; however, while they’re no longer on Google Maps, they’ve forever been immortalized on the various blogs and forums that have covered this topic.
A big deal?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is a major breach of privacy, but if a government had done this, do you think people would respond differently? I think it’s great that Google is trying to improve their search and map functions through this “information fusion”. Once it expands to more cities, it’ll definitely help people like me who get lost easily. Being able to see and identify with a place before going there will be a huge aid. Who knows, once they roll out holographic monitors, I may not even have to save up for that trip around the world…