This week Europe's data protection supervisor, Peter Hustinx sent out a clear warning to Google that their Street View technology must comply with European privacy laws.
"I'd encourage Google to work closely with European data-protection authorities. Taking pictures on a street isn't in itself a problem but taking pictures anywhere can be.
"Respecting data-protection laws is central to Google's business. Success or failure for them in Europe will depend on them respecting the laws. They are smart, I'm confident they won't ignore the laws."
Google announced this week that they will of course comply with European laws:
"We will not launch in Europe until we are confident that Street View
complies with local law, including law relating to the display of images of
individuals," the company said. "We'll use technology like automated
face-blurring and operational controls such as image removal tools so Street
View remains useful and in keeping with local laws and norms wherever it is
Privacy has been a big issue with Street View since its initial launch. Only one day after Street View was launched this image
- supposedly of Mary Kalin-Casey's cat started a debate about Google's invasion of privacy. Mary herself was so concerned about Google's invasion of her cat's privacy that she posted the image all over the internet.
This image of a man apparently breaking into a house in San Francisco was one of the first Street View images to get picked up by bloggers and posted around the world.
That was closely followed by this image of two girls sunbathing in a park in San Francisco
For some reason Street Views featuring scantily clad women are popular - this image of a
girl flashing the Street View car as it passes has appeared on thousands of web sites in the last few days.
Of course in the wake of Google's introduction of Street View a whole host of sites have sprung up that allow people who find interesting Street Views to submit images. These directories of fun Street Views have discovered amongst other images:
Of course anyone can report an inappropriate image. If you click on a help link on a Street View there is the option to fill in a form if you feel the image is inappropriate. Google have removed a number of Street Views already. They have removed the image of a man peeing up a lamp-post, what looked like a drug deal taking place in Chicago, images they took in Fort Sam in Texas and the images taken from the drive of the wonderfully named Borings in Pittsburgh (who attempted to sue Google for breach of their privacy).
This is an example of what it looks like with the Street View removed - this was an image of a man being arrested.
Google have now introduced its new face blurring technology. There are obviously some teething issues with the technology as this Street View of a horse with its face blurred out
Google are obviously hoping that this face blurring technology will be enough to comply with European privacy laws.
Google themselves probably have no choice but to introduce Street View in Europe. If they don't do it then some one else will. There are already a number of other Interent companies offering similar panoramic imagery. MapJack
have produced street views in a number of US cities and a couple of towns in Thailand. City8
is a Chinese Internet company that has produced Street Views in China. EveryScape
- 'Street Views' throughout US, Europe and Asia. This week Microsoft also announced that they will be introducing their own Street View type product with video instead of still panoramas sometime later this year.
What will probably keep Google ahead of the game is that last month they made Street View part of the Google Maps API (application program interface) which means that web developers can use Google's Street View in their own Internet applications.
Some early examples of what developers have produced are: