Duck - or smile - for the cameras!

by Pekka on April 22nd, 2009 in Industry and Security News.

Google Street View has now - starting Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - been launched in Sweden. Google's 360 degrees horizontal and 290 degrees vertical filming may catch you in action when you are taking your daily walk on the boulevard! Google Street View, a feature associated with Google Earth and Google Maps, was first launched in May 2007, when Google´s Chevy Cobalt units with roof-mounted cameras became part of the city images.

The Google Street View service has, however, encountered resistance during implementation trials around the world. The opposition has been made visible by Broughton, a small British town, where people tried to block the Google-car from recording street-life in their town. In Canada, Google was forced to provide information on the shooting in advance in order to protect the privacy of  "urban hikers". According to SVD, Google only films public places. All faces and license plates are made blurry, as the main objective with the service is stated to be showing the cities, not the people living there. Some people might not be satisfied with the "privacy-measures" taken by Google, wanting their involuntarily trapped blurry faces removed from the digitalized Google Street View altogether. Google Street View, therefore, provides functions for notifying Google that a certain picture should be removed. Google is stated to process such complaints within two hours. So if you wish to be removed from the Google Street View feed, send your complaint to Google!

Google Street View is not the only service out there that maps environments in a way that can put people's privacy in jeopardy. The "Gatubild" service in Sweden by Hitta.se, that cooperates with the Hong-Kong based Mapjack, represents another element in this business; public cameras are becoming growing features of city images worldwide. As the quality of the filming increases due to technological achievements, it will be easier to identify the faces of individuals even in poor city-lighting and the people trapped on film may not always be aware that they have become a part of the digital media-feed provided by vendors in this arena. Google is not revealing the amount of camera fitted units that will be patrolling the streets of Sweden. One might wonder why this is kept secret, if there really is nothing to hide!?

In Sweden, currently, there exists no protection against unauthorized photography nor is there any protection against "reputation spread" via surreptitious photo or surreptitious filming. Unwittingly filmed or photographed people, in Sweden, also have no right to damages for violation of privacy. It could be argued that it should be a fundamental right of all humans to have a statutory right to protect their privacy when being filmed involuntarily and without knowledge if it. Should it, for example, be the responsibility of the affected to request to be removed from surreptitiously filmed material?

Pekka Andelin

Lavasoft Malware Labs