Wednesday, August 06, 2008

BPN 1181 Watch out for the Google Street View car

If you are living in Holland or are visiting the Low Countries, watch out: the ET-like Google Street View car is in Holland! Stay inside; if you have to go out, cover your face with a mask or even better, dress up in a burka. Otherwise, you might be the laughing stock for the years to come or worse your marriage might end as you were not able to explain why you were in the same suspicious place as that strange ET car of Google Street View. Can you imagine, telling at a party that your marriage of 30 years was wrecked by a Google car!

At least the people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam might be safe by the end of this month. Since May the Google Street View cars are driving around in those cities and are recording street by street, so that anyone with internet can see in what street you live or are supposed to live. Instead of having a panoramic view, you can get a view as if you were driving through the street or do virtual walks from the train station to your house.

Street View was launched in the USA in the Spring of 2007 and started with the cities of San Francisco, New York City, Denver, Miami and Las Vegas and is now operational in Australia, Asia and Europe. The programme was already active in France; there was even a Street VIew programme for the Tour de France (even after the Tour you can relive the full edition). More recently the programme was started in the UK, where a weblogger had a talk with one of the drivers. And now Holland is being recorded. (Just search on Goggle for Google Street View car and you will see a line up of various camera devices; the one on the picture comes from the UK).

Infringement on privacy came up as a problem when the programme was introduced. A couple in Pittsburgh claims damages of 25.000 US dollars as the Google car shot photographs or part of a movie of the road in front of their house. This, while a notice board indicated that it was a private road. Google reacted rather indifferent by saying that in this modern world there is nothing like absolute privacy. But the company seems to have learned as it did go into discussion with British privacy groups and was able to reassure them with some measures. It also contacted the privacy watchdog of the European Commission and several European countries. The company reassures people that will not be recognisable and is now developing software to make faces and number plates fuzzy and unreadable. Whoever recognises him- or herself can lodge a complaint and demand the image to be removed.

It is not the first time that street film cars are touring around the Netherlands to record streets, the houses, offices, factories and parks. The first time this was happening was in 1989, when a transporter was used in Rotterdam to collect images of streets. It was a project by the former Dutch telecom monopoly PTT in cooperation with the CD-ROM producer CD-Europe. I am not completely sure anymore, but I suspect that the early navigation adapter Tele-Atlas was also involved. (BTW Not one complaint about privacy at that time!). Since 1992 the Dutch company Cyclomedia executes this type of work and has now 34 cars on the road to record the streets, one by one, for government and private companies.

Blog Posting Number: 1181

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