Mere days after its launch, the UK version of Google Maps Street View is coming under fire.
The service, launched on Thursday, has drawn the ire of the public, as well as academics and politicians. Google used cars fitted with special cameras to take photos of the streets of twenty-five UK cities, prompting a wave of people trying to find themselves. Some people, however, were less than happy with what they found, and contacted Google to have images removed.
Amongst the images removed, were a man leaving a sex shop, a person vomiting and someone being arrested. Google have removed the offending images with black screens, although many images can still be viewed from slightly different angles. Google uses face recognition technology to automatically blur our faces and number plates, and the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled last year that this was sufficient to protect people’s privacy. Google’s Laura Scott, speaking to the BBC, defended the service, saying: “We want this to be a useful tool and it’s people’s right to have their image removed … The fact there are now gaps [in Street View] shows how responsive we are.”
Dr Ian Brown, a privacy expert at the Oxford Internet Institute, said he was not surprised that there were some offending images, “This is exactly what you would expect from a service that relies on individuals to help Google not make mistakes,” he said, “[Google] should have thought more carefully about how they designed the service to avoid exactly this sort of thing.” Dr Brown’s solution to the problem, was for Google to have taken the pictures twice, on different days, which is easy for him to say, but Google drove over 22,000 miles while taking the pictures.
But it’s not just the public that has issues with Google’s new service though. Ian Paisley Jnr, a member of the Northern Ireland assembly called Google “reckless” and that they had “given security services a headache”, as Street View shows the locations of police stations and army bases. Given the recent resurgence of violence in Northern Ireland, Paisley’s concerns are understandable, but as the images show what anyone driving down the street could see for themselves, they are perhaps a little ill-informed.
Neither the Ministry of Defence nor the Police Service of Northern Ireland said they wished to comment on the Street View service but a Google spokesperson said: “We spoke to the Police Service of Northern Ireland before we started driving, and made sure they were aware of the project – they did not raise any concerns.”
“In fact, the police in the UK and elsewhere have welcomed Google Maps and Street View as a helpful tool to raise awareness of crime, and in some cases even help deal with crime itself,” she added.