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Google now stalks your street

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 31, 2011 06:20 AM
Bangalore is the first city in the country to be mapped for Street View. This news was published by the Hindu on May 27, 2011.

Not too long from now, Google Map will allow you a sneak peak into the smallest cul-de-sac in the city, zoom into the most popular restaurant on the block, or even check out a home you want to rent.

Google on Thursday announced it will begin collecting images in Bangalore for its controversial Street View service, which will be offered on Google Maps. The service will allow you to explore places through its 360-degree, street-level imagery.

This, it intends to do by using cars and "trikes" (three-wheel pedicab) fitted with a camera system on top. The vehicles "will start gathering images from select locations in and around Bangalore, such as the Nrityagram Dance Village over the next few weeks," Google said in a communiqué.

"We decided to start driving in Bangalore because it is the IT capital of India and feel that the IT-savvy users will be able to leverage the benefits of the product to the fullest," said Vinay Goel, Product Head, Google India. Street View, introduced in May 2007 in the U.S., has since expanded to 27 countries. "It is useful for urban development planners, law enforcement agencies, house-hunters, and travellers," Mr. Goel said.

Privacy issues

But is Google venturing too close for comfort? The service has begun to draw criticism over a host of privacy issues here, just as it has done in several countries where it is in use. This despite Google assurance that it will blur people's faces and licence plates so they are not identified.

However, in the absence of a broad privacy law, there is no mechanism by which the Indian Government can hold Google and its service accountable, explains Sunil Abraham, Director of the Centre for Internet and Society.

"For example, the Japanese Government found that Google's footage was recording the insides of people's homes," he pointed out. Subsequently, the Japanese Government decided to reduce the height of the camera by 16 inches.

Individual concepts

"Every country has a different concept of privacy and any project by Google has to adhere to the local sensibility. But India lacks the mechanism to do so." Further, Mr. Abraham said, given the fact that 90 per cent of the population is offline, and a third illiterate, a Google logo on the van may not serve as implicit consent (unlike in the U.S. where it is a widely recognised brand).

Not real time

According to Google, it protects privacy because Street View images are not real time, but are between a few months to a few years old. There are "easily accessible tools that [allow] users to request further blurring of any image that features the user, their family, their car or their home," says the Google Maps website. "Users can also request the removal of images that feature inappropriate content (for example, nudity or violence)."

Read the original news published in the Hindu here

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