Some Google Street View Imagery Notes

For the latest TBG article at Google Sightseeing, it’s an all-toilet related post.  Juvenile, I know (don’t worry, the next one is about Einstein’s birthday.  Seriously).  One Street View image in particular had me worried that the post might actually have to be pulled before it was even published, namely this image of a man in northern France urinating beside a construction site port-a-john in a front yard.  As you may have read last week, a man in northern France is suing Google for catching him in a similar act in his own yard.  It turns out it’s an entirely different person (the image in today’s GSS post is from an area near the Belgian border as opposed to northwestern France), and the circumstances are slightly different as well.  In the case of the image seen on GSS, the man is performing his deed in plain view of the road with nothing in between.  In the image being sued over, the complaint is that Google’s cameras, being mounted 36 inches above the Street View car, can capture slightly elevated imagery not normally available from the street (the plaintiff’s claim is that he was urinating behind a fence which usually would make his activity invisible at eye level).  Having run into this issue before in Japan, Google lowered their cameras by 16 inches for their post-2009 image gathering expeditions.

To Google’s credit, they’ve been fairly diligent with regard to implementing face-blurring and licence plate-blurring technology in their imagery, although with literally billions of images, things fall through the cracks.  Images that are complained about tend to be blurred or removed.  Where Street View has actually faced government opposition, as in Germany, the resulting ‘opt-out’ option, in which the government allowed the service to move forward with the provision that households be allowed to censor any imagery of their house on street view, has basically killed any further expansion of the service.  Even with just 3 percent of ‘affected’ households opting out, the net result was rather silly: shots of buildings that are available to anyone at anytime just walking or driving down the street are removed, obscuring the street and effectively neutering the concept.  It is safe to say the Street View car will not be returning to Germany anytime soon.


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Just last week when I was assisting at the local community computer access centre, I went into Street View and showed people imagery of our town.  One lady – early 40s, intelligent – suddenly broke out in a look of shock and and asked in complete dead seriousness, ‘Is this live?’  For many, that might be a comment to laugh at, but it’s important to remember in our interconnected world that not everyone is Internet-savvy.

Further Reading

Paul, I. (2009).  Google Street View Faces Privacy Critics in Japan and Greece.  PC World, 11 May 2009.  Available at http://www.pcworld.com/article/164810/google_street_views_faces_privacy_critics_in_japan_and_greece.html.  Accessed 8 March 2012.

Paul, I. (2012).  Google Sued by Frenchman Caught in Embarrassing Pose.  PC World, 2 March 2012.  Available at http://www.pcworld.com/article/251164/google_sued_by_frenchman_caught_on_street_view_in_embarrassing_pose.html. Accessed 8 March 2012.

Spiegel Online (2010). Low Number of Objections: Germans Unfazed by Street View.  Spiegel Online, 21 October 2010.  Available at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,724369,00.html.  Accessed 8 March 2012.

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