Advances in technology can be amazing. At the same time they can be threatening. Especially when they crash into existing cultural predispositions, as Google is finding out in Switzerland. Apparently, the Swiss (and a few other countries in Europe) are fond of their privacy. And, in their opinion, Google’s Street View poses a direct threat to that privacy.
The Swiss penchant for privacy is old news--who doesn’t know about the strict anonymity of Swiss banking laws? It’s not surprising, then, that the country’s federal data protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thuer, announced it would take Google to court unless it did a better job protecting the privacy of those it captured with its Street View cameras. In particular, Thuer wants better blurring of faces and license plates, and a lower camera view so that things not normally viewable from the street, such as walled gardens or private streets, would not be shown.
Google’s Matthais Meyer respond by saying “We believe that Google Street View is absolutely legal, also in Switzerland.” The company, he said, would “vigorously contest” the case.
This is not Google’s first run-in over privacy concerns. Japan has already made Google agree to reshoot images from a lower camera angle; Germany has demanded erasure of raw footage of faces, house numbers, and license plates of individuals who don’t want to appear in Street View; Greece has so far said no to Google’s requests to photograph its streets; and villagers in Buckinghamshire in England formed a human chain around a Google van to block it from photographing its streets.
Street View is an amazing technology. I used it to successfully track down locations for photographs I took last year in Tokyo--even on small, out-of-the-way side-streets. But is the loss of individual privacy too high a price to pay for my convenience?
Dan Ratner, Senior Mechanical Engineer for Google Street View, envisioned the Street View service being able to map parts of the world that cannot be driven. Bike trails, university campuses, amusement parks all could benefit from the Street View mapping system, but at the time, the technology did not exist to explore these areas and record them digitally.
Enter, Google Trike. It is basically a monster tricycle with the Street View camera stuck on its back. However, it opens the possibilities of exploring remote places in more detail from the comfort of your home.
Google's Street View has come under fire from privacy advocates in the past, and this time it's the Swiss Privacy Commissioner who's feeling hot under the collar after Google launched its Street View service in Switzerland last week. In the wake of the launch, Google's been ordered to "immediately withdraw its online service Google Street View concerning Switzerland," according to a statement by Hanspeter Thür, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC).
"We were surprised by the DPA's announcement," a Google spokesperson told Arstechnica. "We have been engaged in constructive dialogue with the organization ahead of this week's launch to demonstrate how we protect people's privacy on Street View. And we're ready to do so again or to answer any additional questions."
Google says that any anonymization and image removal requests will be responded to "within hours," and the search giant has so far cooperated with government requests for changes in how Street View operates in various countries. Thür's office has an information page on its site with instructions on how to blur your face should it show up in a snapshot and says that Google would be allowed to offer Strett View for Swiss streets only if meets "negotiated conditions," but what those conditions are remains unclear.
Navigating with Google's Street View just got a whole lot easier, and it's all thanks to the double-click. Rather than being limited to using the forward and back arrows, you can now double-click on a new place or object and warp-speed your way to that location.
"As you move your mouse within Street View, you'll notice that the cursor now has a lightly-shaded geometry attached to it - it will show an oval when your mouse is following a road and a rectangle when moving across the facade of buildings," Google wrote in a blog entry. "We affectionately refer to this cursor geometry as the 'pancake' because it has the appearance of a pancake laying flat to the object where the mouse is pointing."
Google says its pancake method gives users a sense of depth in an otherwise flat image, and we found that to be the case while playing with the new controls. The new method works well, not only for quick long-distance jumps, but also for auto-rotating the camera view if you, say, click on the front door of a house while looking down the road.
Ever wanted to open up a can of spray paint and write kick ass all over the front doors of the Maximum PC HQ? Well, now you can have your chance. A new tech demo has been released by a company called Earthmine who primarily specializes in geomapping, but decided it might be interesting to show case the early version of their new street-view technology in an interactive demonstration.
Users have the ability to select from the buildings it has indexed, and using paintbrushes, rollers, and other instruments of artistic destruction, create virtual urban art. The usefulness of this application is somewhat limited, but it does help to showcase the underlying technology, which will allow them to create full 3D maps of cities rather than just pasting together panoramic views. This will make browsing much more seamless. It certainly appears to be a pretty compelling offering when compared to the choppiness of Google Street View.
In addition to the web interface, a mobile edition is also being developed that will allow users to hold up their phones in real life, to view how buildings have been tagged in the Wild Style version of their neighborhood. The first version is expected to hit iPhones later in the summer when the new geolocation API’s are released. Want to learn more about Wild Style City? View the You Tube demonstration.
Google recently announced that they have planned to retake all of their photographs for the Japanese version of Street View thanks to their cameras being too high for most resident’s fences.
The new images will be taken from 16 inches lower than before, and will blur out license plates to protect the privacy of those potentially in the camera’s view. Japan Probe argues that the height difference will make little to no difference, because many images that have been deemed inappropriate weren’t behind fences. Examples include a high school girl’s chest being touched, a man who has passed out in his own sick, and a couple entering a “love hotel.”
Given what passes for a game show over there, I’m surprised that this is what people are having issues with.
Google has been known for putting some pictures on Street View that probably don’t belong there. But, it looks like the software giant is playing nice with folks that were offended, and removing them completely.
According to a spokesperson with Google, anyone that makes a request to have an image removed could very well make that happen. And what about the photos that have already been deleted? “We've got millions of images, so the percentage removed was very small,” said Google’s Laura Scott. “We want this to be a useful tool, and it's people's right to have their image removed.”
Google maintains that they only display images that are visible by public thoroughfares.
Should you find yourself using Street View to observe Five Points Road in Rush, NY you’ll see an image of the fawn in question running out in front of the car, and subsequently lying dead (still on one piece, thankfully) on the side of the road. Notably, that’s the last of the data for that road as they reportedly pulled over.
We can’t help but wonder why they didn’t just use this data? Sure, there’s an astronomical number of pictures that these folks have to go through and add to each region, but don’t you think this is something the drivers would have mentioned? Surely, it had to be more obvious to the driver than the “hot babes” truck.
The new Street View updates allow users to see the streets far easier thanks to a new window that fills the whole screen instead of a small portion. It’s also coupled with higher resolution pictures that give you the chance to zoom in closer than you ever could before (hooray for the prospect of new sightings!)
On top of that, new navigation makes things easier. Pan the view with the A and D keys, and look at your apartment, license plate, social security number and list of fears up and down with the W and S keys.
The kicker? It’s not working with the latest version of Google Chrome. I guess that’s something to pay attention to in the future, huh?
The new technology can replace facial features of a person featured in any image with that of someone else. The software is quite smart and picks features from thousands of images available on sites like Flickr. The USP of this software happens to be its ability to function flawlessly without any human intervention or support. Google can certainly give the face swapping software a thought, as it will not only be a more presentable alternative to obscuring but also bring a bit of comic relief.