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Google Unveils Controversial Street View Mapping in B’lore

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 30, 2011 09:48 AM
Mapping service, under criticism in Europe because of security reasons, allows users to view pedestrian-level photos of streets, houses. This news was published in the Economic Times, Mumbai on May 27, 2011.

Amid concerns of privacy in Europe and several western countries, Google launched its popular but controversial mapping service Street View in India’s technology hub Bangalore, which will allow users to view pedestrian-level photos of streets and houses.

Google said on Thursday that it has started capturing images of Indian streets which will later allow users to view panoramic images of streets across the country through its popular yet controversial “street view” feature on Google Maps. For starters, cars and three-wheelers, mounted with high resolution cameras will begin driving and taking street level photographs of public locations around Bangalore, top Google executive said at a press conference here on Thursday.

"We are announcing the street view in India. You will start seeing Google cars on the streets collecting imagery and then over time, it will be launched online on Google maps," said Vinay Goel, product head, Google India. Street View is a popular feature of Google Maps which is now used in more than 27 countries. With Street View, users can virtually explore and navigate a neighbourhood through panoramic street-level images. Besides cars, specially designed three-wheel pedi-cabs, called Google Trike, with a camera system mounted on top — will start gathering images from selected locations in the area such as the Nrityagram Dance Village over the next few weeks. The company’s move comes at a time when the Indian government is becoming more and more conscious of privacy laws. In a recent amendment to the existing Information Technology Act, India has added many clauses that protects sensitive information of the citizen. Privacy advocates criticised the feature in the US where it was first launched in 2007. After Google admitted that it collected wi-fi payload data by mistake using the street view cars, lot of bad press and protests followed. Google has stopped collecting wi-fi data.The feature met with opposition on similar grounds in Europe when it was launched. Opponents said that people did not want to be pictured going to places — like bars and strip clubs — they did not want to reveal publicly. They also did not want a private company to capitalise on public data. Google Street View was temporarily banned in Austria and Czech Republic due to privacy concerns. 

Goel said, that the company has addressed privacy concerns and is continuously monitoring reports of privacy violations.

"Google will collect only public data. We have also improved the process so that faces and identifiable details like number plates will be blurred out of the images. We have permissions from local authorities and are open to discussions," he added. Users can also report problems to Google directly using the "report a problem" button on Google Maps.

Says Nishant Shah, director, research, Centre for Internet and Society, "Street View has been contested in many other countries on three counts. Private companies should not be allowed to capitalise on public data. This is a serious problem. Another nuanced argument is, if you formalise and regulate space in a particular space, it reduces the possibility of grey areas and diversity. It is also difficult to ensure total privacy. People invariably figure in many of the images captured. Even if you blur faces, there are certain identifiable characteristics of a person and can be misused."

Vinay Goel, product head Google India, launches Street View in Bangalore

Vinay Goel, product head Google India, launches Street View in Bangalore

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