Google's "Street View" and Privacy in Public

Planned Parenthood clinic on Google Street ViewAbout 6 months ago Microsoft launched their Windows Live Local Virtual Earth service, providing street level images of San Francisco and Seattle. You can drive or walk around the map and view the streets and storefronts…and the people. This detailed level of mapping carries significant concerns about one’s privacy in public, which I pointed out at the time.

Google has now jumped into the foray, offering their own “Street View” enhancement for Google Maps. Pretty slick, but the same concerns persist. If you click on the image to the right, you’ll find the “street view”for a Planned Parenthood clinic in lower Manhattan. Do you think those people hanging out in front expected their image to be taken and mapped by Google for millions to see? Luckily for them, they’re not identifiable in this particular case, but I’m sure other examples could be found that might show people in places they’d rather not have recorded and distributed by Google.

But wait! Perhaps Google was listening, for they provide instructions for flagging a “Street View” image as “inappropriate” which takes users to a feedback page where particular images can be flagged with these concerns:

  • This image contains inappropriate content
  • This image infringes on my privacy
  • This image presents personal security concerns
  • Other

What Google does with these requests I don’t know, but its a helpful step for them to acknowledge that these concerns persist with the expanded use of images from everyday life in such applications.

One suggestion, though: the “report inappropriate image” prompt should be on the main image display, not tucked away at the bottom of the related “help” page.

UPDATE: BoingBoing readers have been sending in various “inappropriate” images viewable thanks to Google’s new toy, including this one of someone’s neighbor taking out their trash (are they recycling??), and another of a car in a driveway with its license plate in clear view (I hope its supposed to be there).

UPDATE 2: Wired News is amassing a nice collection of images as well.

UPDATE 3: More amazing “best of photo galleries” [via Google Blogoscoped]

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