Tom tries to put the Brake on Google Street View

by Stephen Tall on July 14, 2009

As today’s Times reports:

Google’s Street View service got off to a bumpy start in the UK as privacy campaigners tried to block Google’s car-mounted cameras from photographing Britain’s streets. Now, Google is heading off the beaten track.

The internet company has loaded its 3-D Street View cameras on to rickshaw-style tricycles in an effort to capture national landmarks, monuments and sights that cannot be viewed from a car.

The pictures will form part of Street View, a mapping service from Google that gives 360-degree views of the country’s biggest cities, allowing people to take virtual tours from their computers or mobile phones.

However Lib Dem MP tom Brake is less-than-impressed:

Sceptics warned yesterday that any abuses of the service could reignite legal claims against the company.

“Off-road, Google must show even greater respect for privacy that on the street,” said Tom Brake MP, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman. “If they don’t, they may capture more than they bargained for as they pedal silently along our remotest lanes and cycleways.”

Back in March, Tom stated his concerns with Street View in the Commons:

In the past couple of days, Google has launched another application called Street View, through which people can look at different streets in different cities around the country. The technology is moving so fast that my concern is whether the Government, the Information Commissioner and everyone else who needs to be involved can get ahead of the technological curve, or whether they will always be trying to catch up with technology that is continually pushing at the barriers and putting such images into the public domain. Interestingly, the police were asked about Street View, and they said that it was useful, because it would help to cut crime. I am not sure whether that suggests that there will be a working relationship between the police and Google Street View to ensure that those images are shared. If so, I would be interested to know what the data protection issues are and what dialogue took place before that application was made live—it is now live. Will the Minister say precisely what is happening in terms of all those technological developments and what the discussion process is before applications that potentially threaten our privacy are released by commercial companies?

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9 comments

Check out some of these Google Street View privacy invasions:

http://streetviewgallery.corank.com/

by Mapper99 on July 14, 2009 at 3:12 pm. Reply #

I feel instinctively that this a rare occasion on which Tom risks landing on the wrong side of the debate. Obviously the Information Commissioner & other relevant authorities must be consulted. However, a blanket opposition to expanding Google Street View on privacy grounds would be wrong. I hope Tom won’t tilt over into such a knee-jerk opposition.

One could just as easily headline the blogpost above as ‘Lib Dem MP tries to block access to information which is already in the public domain’.

I presume Tom doesn’t want a new law to prevent me taking a photo of some trees on a public footpath & then uploading the piccie to flickr? But that is essentially what Google is doing – admittedly on a massive scale.

Sounds to me like this new iteration of Street View, including taking photos of sites such as Stonehenge will likely:
– Increase tourism to the countryside at a time when the rural economy desperately needs it.
– Provide an inspiration for people to rediscover our public footpaths & other walkways thus increasing exercise in a nation suffering an obesity crisis.

A party that has a long & distinguished history of supporting greater access for ramblers to the countryside should follow the logic of that support.

(Just for the sake of clarity I hold no brief for google and myself have significant concerns about, for example, its seemingly cavalier attitude to authors’ Intellectual Property).

by Andy H on July 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm. Reply #

Don’t understand the fuss about Streetview, it doesn’t show anything I couldn’t find myself just by taking a walk down the road.

by Richard on July 14, 2009 at 4:37 pm. Reply #

Yes, he’s wrong over this. Just another example of misplaced concerns like the problems the trainspotters & railway togs were finding from over-zealous police earlier this year.

by ColinW on July 14, 2009 at 4:58 pm. Reply #

Why would an image of a street at some indeterminate point several months earlier be useful in fighting crime?

by Hywel on July 14, 2009 at 5:44 pm. Reply #

Tom,
you are barking up the wrong tree here!

by simonsez on July 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm. Reply #

Tom doesn’t sound very smart.

He says, “putting such images into the public domain”, as if the images weren’t taken in public spaces anyway! He says, “Google must show even greater respect for privacy that on the street”, but we don’t have privacy on the street! It’s a public area!

Thumbs down from me too here.

by Alex on July 14, 2009 at 6:44 pm. Reply #

Nice to see so many people in agreement.
Google is not showing anything which cannot be seen from a public right of way (there have been cases where they went down a private road and had to take the images down – which is the right thing to do).

Generally they seem to go beyond the strictly necessary too – they blur people’s faces and license plates and will remove images upon request.

Tom Brake is sounding a bit reactionary – perhaps its the big business aspect (which does lead to some concerns with Google), or perhaps its just a bit of good old fear of new technology.

by Tristan on July 14, 2009 at 8:35 pm. Reply #

Personally, I’d like it if Google’s mapping information and photography *were* in the public domain rather than remaining under Google’s copyright, but that’s another matter entirely, and probably unreasonable of me 😉

by Dave Page on July 15, 2009 at 11:39 am. Reply #

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