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Jun 5, 2007

Another Google privacy concern erupts

Users of Street View, Google's new facility to get ground-level views of selected city streets have noticed that some of the images may not be entirely appropriate for public viewing. Examples quoted in a NY Times piece include bikini-clad women, a man scaling a gate, a man entering a porn shop and readable vehicle number plates. The images were captured by cameras mounted on a car, in other words anyone who happened to be there at the time would have seen whatever was on show. The privacy issues arise from (a) not asking permission of those photographed to publish their pictures; (b) publishing the captured images on the World Wide Web; and (c) adding Google's legendary search capabilities into the mix.

For its part, Google claims to have considered the privacy implications and evidently made the decision to go ahead with the Street View project, so far at least.

This is just one of many privacy concerns raised by Google's services, and another interesting 'unintended consequence' of modern high tech. Google is at the same time both a wonderful search tool with an impressive lineup of innovative services, and a threat to those who accidentally publish sensitive things on the WWW or now step out in public in selected city streets. Google's desktop search utility was previously slammed for disclosing details of the contents of users' C: drives on the Web and the European Community is currently deeply concerned about Google's privacy policies.

Other search engines raise privacy concerns too, of course, but Google is the biggest and hence is bound to be in the firing line.

More security awareness materials on privacy in this month's NoticeBored module.