Google Street View Privacy Concerns Go to ETHI Committee

Simon Fodden predicted that the privacy complaints would begin once Google Maps Street View was launched. The maps have proven popular in Canada, with over 150 million views of other countries by Canadians in 2009 alone.

Google recognizes privacy concerns, but claims to address them through their collection and processing approach:

  • public access images, no different than what would normally be seen walking down the street
  • not in real time, so images can be months old before going live
  • blurring of license plates and faces
  • allowing removal requests, through the “Report a Problem” option in the bottom-left of all images

Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham raised these concerns Thursday to MPs in the House of Commons privacy and ethics committee, pointing out that at times Colonel Sanders‘ face was blurred in ads, while people were not.

She said that Google’s collection may fall under an exception of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, 2000, c. 5 (PIPEDA,),

Collection without knowledge or consent
7. (1) …an organization may collect personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual only if

(c) the collection is solely for journalistic, artistic or literary purposes;

However, she notes that if other providers use the same argument to start collecting street-level information under the same exception, they might try to disseminate it without blurring technology, thereby posing a risk to children by predators.

Jonathan Lister of Google Canada claimed that they offer more privacy controls than mainstream-media,

If I’m inadvertently captured on the front page of a newspaper, the same way I might be inadvertently captured on Street View, I don’t have the recourse that Google offers if I’m captured in a pan shot on broadcast news. I don’t have my image blurred and I don’t have the ability to have that image taken down. So I think Google is really trying to lead by example and set the industry standard on privacy-protection practice.

Minutes from the meeting are not yet available, nor are documents from the Jan. 26, 2009 study on the implications of camera surveillance such as Google. Maybe they’re considered too private.

Meanwhile, some Canadians are wondering how many bloopers are in the new Street View maps. It’s become a popular pasttime in America, where the maps were launched May 2007.

The only thing I’ve been able to find so far is Robert Jago of A Dime A Dozen Blog claiming this shot of East Hastings Street in Vancouver is a drug deal caught on camera. I have to squint really hard to see it, and use a bit of my imagination, but if that’s the extent of privacy concerns with Google Street View, frankly, I’m not that concerned.

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