The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Google's Street View complies with Japan privacy law, regulator says 

The Japanese Communications Ministry has concluded that Google's Street View complies with Japan's data protection laws provided it continues to blur individual faces. It appears to be a preliminary opinion as more public input is being sought over the coming months.

The Hindu News Update Service

Japan says 'Ok' to Google's Street View service

Tokyo (PTI): Japan's government has concluded that Google's popular Street View service does not violate the country's privacy laws if the search engine giant takes safeguards like blurring people's faces.

An advisory panel of the communications ministry has determined that Google's Street View service would be consistent with Japan's personal information protection law if the US-based firm takes appropriate measures such as blurring identifiable images, such as faces, ministry officials said.

The pronouncement marks the first time that the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has expressed an opinion on the legality of the Google service, which provides close-up, 360-degree colour views of city streets, as they were caught by Google's Street View cameras installed on vehicles.

It amounted to turning down requests by dozens of city Assemblies across Japan -- including Tokyo's Machida city Assembly and Nara Prefecture's Ikoma city Assembly -- which adopted resolutions calling on the government to place curbs on the service, Kyodo news agency reported.

The ministry will release its final conclusion possibly in August after soliciting views from citizens.

Google launched its Street View service for 12 Japanese cities in August last year.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Google execs testify about Street View and privacy 

Yesterday, executives from Google Canada testified to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ethics, Privacy and Access to Information about their Street View product and how Google is addressing privacy concerns.

Here's some of the media coverage from the Ottawa Citizen, which I'll supplement with the actual testimony when it's posted on the Committee's site:

Google ‘Street View’ amended to allay privacy concerns, executive tells MPs

OTTAWA — Google’s controversial “Street View” feature won’t infringe on Canadians’ privacy rights, the company’s head of Canadian operations said Wednesday in advance of an appearance before a House of Commons committee.

Jonathan Lister, head of Google Canada, was to stand before a federal government committee Wednesday afternoon to defend Google’s Street View service.

Lister came to Ottawa equipped with testimonials from Street View users all over the world — including Boris Johnson, mayor of London. He also offered data that suggest Canadians might be eager to see their home country represented on the new service, as more than 100 million Street View images from other countries have been pulled up by Canadians.

“It has been extremely well received and as people use it, they find more uses for it,” said Lister. “We’re getting indications that it’s going to be popular in Canada. We’ve got testimonials and accolades from tourism officials, the mayor of London, and Australian tourism officials that support the fact that it’s been widely well received.”

Lister was being brought before the access to information, privacy and ethics committee after the committee passed a motion demanding Google explain any impact its new Street View service may have on Canadians’ privacy rights.

The feature allows someone using Google Maps or Google Earth to click on a street or a building and see a picture of the area. The cameras used to capture the picture allow onlookers to swivel 360 degrees within the image and even allows Internet users the ability to take a virtual stroll through neighbourhoods.

Google has been preparing for the roll-out of Street View in Canada since March. The Internet search giant has also been in intense discussions with the federal privacy commissioner’s office since that time, trying to negotiate a solution that would allow Google to offer Street View images from Canada to the rest of the world without contravening Canadian privacy law.

“We think the product is compliant, but we are certainly not going to launch it until we have satisfied our concerns,” said Lister. “We continue to work with the commissioner’s office. As we get closer to rolling the product out we plan on working with local law enforcement officials and stakeholder groups.”

Lister said Google has recently revamped its internal policies to cut the amount of time the company will archive Street View pictures. The move addresses one of the privacy commissioner’s biggest concerns.

“Recently we’ve revised our retention policy such that we have made a decision to only retain these images for an adequate but not-excessive period of time, after which they will be deleted,” said Lister.

Street View also automatically blurs the faces and identifying features of people or licence plates caught by Street View’s cameras and anyone who sees their picture, or a picture of their home or vehicle can ask Google to remove the image.

Lister would not define how long an “adequate” period of time will be. He also refused to commit to a date for the official launch of Street View in Canada. Vehicles having been cruising Canadian streets and suburbs in 32 cities taking pictures for the new service over the past two months.

The access to information, privacy and ethics committee is reviewing Canada’s privacy laws to determine whether they need to be updated. The committee will roll Lister’s comments into a final report on the state of Canadian privacy legislation, which is due later this year.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Google Street View's privacy enhancing technology? 

With Google's recent launch of Street View in Europe and imminent photographing of Canadian cities, I thought I'd do some quick looking around at how effective their "face blurring" technology may be. It only took one minute of wandering around London and I was able to see where it might fall off the rails.

In this particular image, the anti-war protesters are recognizable but - THANKFULLY - the image of what's probably George W. Bush has been blurred out. But not blurred to the point of non-recognition.

Google: You've come a long way, baby, but there's work to be done.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Google forced to black out hundreds of UK Street View photos after privacy protests 

Google Street View went live in the UK last week. Despite the prevalence of surveillance in Britain, complaints have rolled in and Google has taken down hundreds of pictures. See: Google forced to black out hundreds of Street View photos after privacy protests - but site gets record hits Mail Online.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Google wins Street View privacy suit 

I blogged a while ago about a lawsuit brought against Google by the Boring family, alleging that Google's Street View was an invasion of their privacy by showing images of the Borings' house. (Google moves to have lawsuit thrown out, arguing complete privacy does not exist , Boring lawsuit over Google's "Street View" ).

According to CNET, the case has been thrown out by the Federal Court (here's the decision).

Via: Google wins Street View privacy suit Digital Media - CNET News.

For more on this topic generally, see postings tagged with "google street view".

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Telling community stories with Street View 

Here's a nice departure from the usual privacy complaining about Google's Street View. The concept is simple: turn Google Street View into a community event. Its execution was perfect. I'll let the authors describe it:
STREET WITH A VIEW: a project by Robin Hewlett & Ben Kinsley

Street With A View introduces fiction, both subtle and spectacular, into the doppelganger world of Google Street View.

On May 3rd 2008, artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley invited the Google Inc. Street View team and residents of Pittsburgh’s Northside to collaborate on a series of tableaux along Sampsonia Way. Neighbors, and other participants from around the city, staged scenes ranging from a parade and a marathon, to a garage band practice, a seventeenth century sword fight, a heroic rescue and much more...

Street View technicians captured 360-degree photographs of the street with the scenes in action and integrated the images into the Street View mapping platform. This first-ever artistic intervention in Google Street View made its debut on the web in November of 2008.

An incredible cast of real-life characters contributed their time, energy and talents to creating pseudo-street life on Sampsonia Way. Please check out the scene breakdown, the participant page and the video documentation to learn more about the artists, groups and participants that made Street With A View possible.


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Friday, January 02, 2009

The Canadian Privacy Law Blog is Five! 

Five years ago, on January 2, 2004, a new age of privacy was creeping across Canada and this blog was born. The day before, at the stroke of midnight, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (Canada) had come fully into force. The Alberta and British Columbia Personal Information Protection Acts also became effective on the first day of 2004.

Since then, we have seen dramatic changes in privacy throughout the world: Identity theft is on the rise; there have been literally thousands of data breaches exposing the personal information of millions of people; governments are looking for easier access to personal information; video surveillance is more widespread; more personal information is generated digitally and aggregated in private hands.

And in the past year specifically, things have remained interesting on the privacy front. We've seen debate over changes to PIPEDA without anything definitive coming from the mandatory five year review. We've also seen arguments put forward to reform the public sector Privacy Act. Focus has also been drawn to the increasing practice of examining laptops at US border crossings. Litigation between Viacom and Google has raised awareness of log information that's often retained by internet companies. And Google has also been sued by a couple claiming their privacy has been violated by presenting pictures of their house in Google Street View. But in the last year, the one big privacy story that was supposed to have the largest impact on Canadians was the implementation of the National Do Not Call List. Whether it has, in fact, had an impact is the subject of debate.

I'd like to thank the many thousands of readers of the blog for visiting this site and thanks to those who have contacted me with comments, compliments, suggestions and links to interesting news. It's been a pleasure to write and I plan to keep it going as long as there's interesting privacy news to report.

Birthday cake graphic used under a creative commons license from K. Pierce.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Take Pittsburgh off Google Street View. Think of the children! 

This blog is familiar with previous privacy issues raised by Google's street view (see: posts tagged "google street view"), but this seems a little over the top. A group is calling for the removal of Pittsburgh from Google street view because predators could use it to locate schools, playgrounds and other places where children might congregate. Hmm. I guess there's no other way of getting that information.

See: Children's safety group wants city off of Google's Street View

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Google moves to have lawsuit thrown out, arguing complete privacy does not exist 

In the "Street View" lawsuit with the Borings (see: Boring lawsuit over Google's "Street View"), Google has filed a motion to have the suit dismissed. Google argues that in the 21st century, complete privacy does not exist. The Smoking Gun has Google's motion here: Google: "Complete Privacy Does Not Exist" - July 30, 2008

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Google starts collecting street view data in Europe 

According to Computerworld Security, Google has started collecting images of European streets for its Street View feature, but is holding off putting the data online until it has figured out the local privacy law challenges. See: Google takes Street View snaps in Paris; lawsuits could follow.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Google starts blurring faces on Street View 

According to the CBC, Google has started implementing an algorithm to automatically blur peoples' faces in Google Street View. This follows complaints that the online service violates privacy by showing people without their consent. See: Google starts blurring faces on Street View.

For some background, see: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Google Street View raises privacy concerns, Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Google modifying street view to meet Canadian privacy expectations.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Boring lawsuit over Google's "Street View" 

(I couldn't resist.)

Mr. and Ms. Boring of Pittsburgh is suing Google for intentional invasion of privacy since Google's Street View feature shows a picture of the home despite the fact that their street is marked as a private road. The Smoking Gun has the facts and their pleadings:

Couple Sues Google Over "Street View" - April 4, 2008

APRIL 4--A Pittsburgh couple is suing Google for invasion of privacy, claiming that the web giant's popular "Street View" mapping feature has made a photo of their home available to online searchers. Aaron and Christine Boring accuse Google of an "intentional and/or grossly reckless invasion" of their seclusion and privacy since they live on a street that is "clearly marked with a 'Private Road' sign," according to a lawsuit the couple filed this week in Allegheny County's Court of Common Pleas. A copy of the April 2 complaint can be found below. According to the Borings, they purchased their Oakridge Lane home in late-2006 for "a considerable sum of money," noting that a "major component of their purchase decision was a desire for privacy." But when Pittsburgh was added last October to the roster of cities covered by Google's "Street View" feature, the Borings allege, their "private information was made known to the public," causing them "mental suffering" and diminishing the value of their home (which cost the couple $163,000, according to property records). The Borings are seeking in excess of $25,000 in damages and want a court order directing Google to destroy images of their home. Click here for some photos of the Boring property, which is now even easier to locate via Google Maps, since the plaintiffs included their home address on the lawsuit's first page. And while they are litigating, perhaps the Borings should consider suing Allegheny County's Office of Property Assessments, which includes a photo of their home (which was built in 1916 and sits on 1.82 acres) on its web site. Here's a screen grab. (8 pages)

If you look at the pictures of their property, you might think that if the Borings were concerned about their privacy they would have put a fence around their pool. I'm just saying ...

UPDATE (2008.04.06): The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog has a response from Google:

There is no merit to this action. It is unfortunate litigation was chosen to address the concern because we have visible tools, such as a YouTube video, to help people learn about imagery removal and an easy-to-use process to facilitate image removal.

As a matter of policy, imagery for Street View is taken in public streets and what any person can readily capture or see in the public domain. Street View is a popular, engaging feature that allows people to easily find, discover, and plan activities relevant to a location.

What's most interesting -- at least from my perspective -- is that this argument doesn't hold much water in Canada. Up here, there are two different privacy laws. There is some caselaw that's similar to tort law in the US suggesting that you can sue for invasion of privacy, if there's been an "unreasonable invasion of privacy". In the US, there is no expectation of privacy in the streets or in a public place and, other than in Quebec, that's probably the law in Canada. The second law is PIPEDA, which is a separate statute that governs all collection, use and disclosure of personal information in connection with commercial activity. Since Google's doing commercial activity, the law requires consent for the collection and disclosure of personal information. (There's some serious doubt that the photo of your house without any other information would be your personal information.) Since street view often includes photos of people, Google would require consent to use those photos for commercial purposes. Since the Google street sweepers do not get consent, there's no easy way to have street view in Canada.

I expect that Google will have technology to blur out individuals so they can take street view to Canada and other jurisdictions where privacy laws would prohibit photos of pedestrians.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Google modifying street view to meet Canadian privacy expectations 

According to the Globe & Mail, Google is looking into blurring faces and license plates in its Canadian version of Street View to satisfy the requirements of local privacy laws. This is in the wake of earlier reports that the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, had written to Google and Immersive Media with her view that rolling out the service would likely infringe Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. (See: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Privacy Commissioner questions legality of Google Street View in Canada.) Google: we hear (and see a fuzzy rendition of you), Canada

The man in charge of Google's privacy policy says the Internet giant is working on a version of its controversial Street View service that won't breach Canadian privacy rules, after federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart raised concerns about the service earlier this month.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said in an interview from Montreal on Monday the company understands Canada has "struck a different balance" than the U.S. has in terms of what is public and what is private, and that Google is sensitive to those differences.

Street View, which has data available from seven U.S. cities but does not yet include any Canadian sites, is a tool that shows users street-level photographs of the addresses they are searching for. Some of the photos, which are being taken by a fleet of cars belonging to Immersive Media of Calgary, show individuals entering adult-video stores and urinating in public.

In comments earlier this month, Ms. Stoddart said that she had contacted Google and Immersive Media to express her concerns that taking photos of people -- even in public -- for such a service might violate Canadian privacy laws.

The United States has "a long tradition of saying that it is legal and appropriate to take pictures from public spaces and publish them," Mr. Fleischer said. "But clearly, we're aware that different countries around the world strike a different balance between this idea of a public place on the one hand and people's expectation of privacy."


Mr. Fleischer said the Internet company doesn't have "an exact timeline" of when Street View might be available in Canada, but said Google is working on it now. Altering the quality of the photos "makes it a little harder for us [to launch Street View in Canada], because it takes a little more work," he said.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Government moving to access personal info, sparking privacy fears 

The CBC has a lengthy piece on the quiet consultation I referred to the other day (Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Public Safety Canada Quietly Launches Lawful Access Consultation):

Government moving to access personal info, sparking privacy fears

Government agencies are moving to gain access to telephone and internet customers' personal information without first getting a court order, according to a document obtained by that is raising privacy issues.

Public Safety Canada and Industry Canada have begun a consultation on how law enforcement and national security agencies can gain lawful access to customers' information. The information would include names, addresses, land and cellphone numbers, as well as additional mobile phone identification, such as a device serial number and a subscriber identity module (SIM) card number.

The consultation also seeks input on access to e-mail addresses and IP addresses. An IP address is a number that can be used to identify a computer's location.

The document says the objective of the consultation is to provide law enforcement and national security agencies with the ability to obtain the information while protecting the privacy of Canadians.

The document says that under current processes, enforcement agencies have been experiencing difficulties in gaining the information from telecommunications service providers, some of which have been demanding a court-issued warrant before turning over the data.

"If the custodian of the information is not co-operative when a request for such information is made, law enforcement agencies may have no means to compel the production of information pertaining to the customer," the document says. "This poses a problem in some contexts."

It says enforcement agencies may need the information for matters other than probes, such as informing next-of-kin of emergency situations, or because they are at the early stages of an investigation.

"The availability of such building-block information is often the difference between the start and finish of an investigation," according to the document.

Privacy advocates, however, expressed displeasure over both the content and the process of the consultation.

Criticizes short consultation time

Michael Geist, chair of internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said the process is not being conducted publicly as two previous consultations have been, in 2002 and in 2005.

The consultation has not been published in the Canada Gazette, where such documents are normally publicized, or on the agencies' websites.

Interested parties have been given until Sept. 27 to submit their comments, which is a short consultation time, Geist said. Several organizations and individuals contacted by only received their documents this week.

More pointedly, a number of parties that took part in the previous consultations, including privacy and civil liberty advocates — and even some telecommunication service providers — have not been made aware of the discussion, he said.

"It's really disturbing particularly in light of the fact that they've had two prior consultations on lawful access in the past, so it's not as if they don't know the parties that are engaged on this issue," Geist said.

Officials with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association were not aware of the consultation.

All about appearances?

Jacqueline Michelis, an Ottawa-based spokeswoman at Bell Canada Inc., the country's largest telecommunications provider, said the company was aware of the consultation but would not comment further. Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp., the country's next biggest providers, did not have immediate comment.

Geist said the other problem with the consultation is that it appears as if the government agencies have already made up their minds on how to proceed and are simply conducting it for appearances' sake.

"The fear is that law enforcement knows what it would like to do — it would like to be able to obtain this information without court oversight — and so it has pulled together this consultation in the hope that they can use that to say they have consulted, and here are the safeguards that the consultation thought was appropriate."

Denies document secrecy

Mélisa Leclerc, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, said the government was not trying to keep the consultation secret and would post the document on the internet on Thursday. The deadline for submissions would also be extended, although no decision on a date has been made yet.

Colin McKay, a spokesman for the privacy commissioner of Canada, said the government agencies have not yet proven that accessing information without a court order is necessary. The commissioner will be making a submission to the consultation on that matter.

"We'd like to see some proof that this is a necessary step because at the moment there is provision in privacy law if necessary and if presented with a legal authority to do it, in most cases that's a court order," McKay said. "That gives Canadians some level of protection."

The Information Technology Association of Canada, which will also be making a submission, agreed and said it would like to see details on instances where telecommunication providers have refused to co-operate with authorities.

"This is about transposing to new technology the same kind of law enforcement we used to have on wire-line phone networks," said Bernard Courtois, president and chief executive officer of ITAC. "Conversely, just because you're going to do law enforcement on new technology people should not lose any of their privacy protection or rights in terms of the nature of investigation."

Canada's move is in contrast to one by the United States, where last week a federal judge overturned a part of the Patriot Act that allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly obtain personal records about customers from internet providers, phone companies, banks, libraries and other businesses without a court's permission.

Speaking on the phone from Paris, Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for internet search giant Google Inc., told that even in the security-conscious United States, courts have moved to curtail excessive attempts by the government at extracting personal information.

A year and a half ago, the Department of Justice obtained a warrant demanding Google turn over users' personal information as part of an investigation into the effectiveness of anti-pornography software that was being tested. Google refused and a judge ending up siding with the company.

"The order we had from the U.S. Department of Justice was a valid legal order under the U.S. legal system, but even then it was excessive and infringed privacy, and was curtailed by a U.S. court when we challenged it," Fleischer said.

Companies operating in Canada, and their customers, should have the same rights here, he said.

"There should be judicial authorization and a valid legal process before a government should be able to compel companies to hand over information about their users."

Ironically, Google on Wednesday came under fire from Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart for its Street View web photo application. The commissioner said many of the images used by the application could break Canada's privacy laws.

Fleischer would not comment on the matter, but said he would address it when he visits Canada later this month.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Privacy Commissioner questions legality of Google Street View in Canada 

This is interesting ...

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has written to Google, asking for comments on the proposition that Google Street View may violate Canadian privacy laws.

Letter regarding the 3D online mapping technology (September 11, 2007) - Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

Letter to Mr. David C. Drummond, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, Google, regarding 3D online mapping technology


Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA. The images contained in Immersive Media’s GeoImmersive Database appear to have been collected largely without the consent and knowledge of the individuals who appear in the images. These images now appear in your company’s Street View application. I understand that there is a function within Street View which allows viewers to request that certain images be removed. This is only a partial solution, however, given that individuals may not be aware that images relating to them are on Street View. As well, by the time individuals become aware that images relating to them are contained in Street View, their privacy rights may already have been affected.

I am concerned that, if the Street View application were deployed in Canada, it might not comply with our federal privacy legislation. In particular, it does not appear to meet the basic requirements of knowledge, consent, and limited collection and use as set out in the legislation. I would appreciate your response to the issues that I have raised as soon as possible, given the importance of these questions to the privacy rights of Canadians. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Past postings on this topic: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Google Street View raises privacy concerns & Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Google demands photo ID to get off Street View. Or not.

There's been loads of coverage of this issue in the mainstream media. See:

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Google demands photo ID to get off Street View. Or not. 

Yesterday, it was reported that people who wanted their photos off Google Street View had to provide a copy of photo ID and a sworn statement. There was also concern that there was no limit to how the info provided could be used. Now, they're backing off all of that and are confirming that the info will only be used for this process. See: Threat Level -- Wired Blogs.

Methinks this is a sign that Google is listening to how its privacy practices are perceived and is taking action.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Google Street View raises privacy concerns 

It seems there's nothing that Google can do without raising privacy concerns.

Yesterday, Boing Boing was buzzing with a number of postings about the newly introduced feature in Google Maps: Google Street View. A similar feature has been around for a while by other providers, but the resolution of the pictures posted by Google are the best I've seen. So good you can look in peoples' windows to (g)oogle their cats, see cats in blankets, see folks taking out the garbage (scroll down a little and click on the little man or the green arrow), scope out sunbathers (more sunbathers) and check out a homeless guy sleeping in an alley. I bet none of them thought they'd end up on the internet.

Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy when you're in a public area or at least visible from the street? Does this change the rules or should the rules be changed?

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