- 7 Jul 08, 09:52 GMT
Last week I published a letter Privacy International had written to Google, questioning certain aspects of Street View.
You can read the accompanying news story here.
Well, now Google has written back to Simon Davies, and in the interests of balance you can read their letter below. There's more here also.
Thank you for your email. I am happy to respond to your questions about Street View. I think that we have done an excellent job of balancing valid privacy concerns while maintaining the integrity of what our users tell us is an incredibly useful product.
Google Maps Street View in Europe
I can confirm that Google plans to launch Google Maps Street View in a few European countries. In fact, we launched our first European imagery a few hours before your email on Thursday, covering the route of the Tour de France cycle race. We're currently driving in a number of countries across Europe, including the UK, although we don't have any further launches to announce at this time.
As you probably know, the Street View feature in Google Maps has been available for over a year, but until Thursday's launch it had only featured imagery from the US. You correctly note, however, that we had publicly committed to respect other countries' privacy laws and norms, if and when we did launch outside the US. Yesterday's launch therefore not only brought the value of Street View to new shores and new users, it also demonstrated our commitment to meet the privacy challenges of the product.
Technology and tools to protect privacy
With the new Tour de France imagery we have continued our use of face blurring technology. We actually launched this technology publicly in early May, when we refreshed our imagery in Manhattan, New York. Since then we have applied face blurring to all new imagery launches in the US, including a major launch in June. At the same time we retrospectively applied the same technology to all previously launched US imagery. I'm therefore slightly puzzled that you were told by someone at Google just 6 weeks ago that we were having problems with this technology, when it was already in use.
For the Tour de France route we have supplemented our face blurring technology with a similar system which blurs vehicle license plates, to account for improved image resolution in this launch. And of course, as with all Street View imagery, we provide tools that make it easy for users to report images of concern, and we act swiftly to honor valid requests. In combination, our technology and tools are the best way of ensuring that individuals and vehicles which appear in passing within the product are not identifiable.
As with all such systems operating at this scale our blurring technology is not perfect - we occasionally miss a face or license plate, for example if they are partially covered, or at a difficult angle. However, we tested the technology thoroughly before launch and I am confident that it finds and blurs the vast majority of identifiable faces and license plates. For the few that we miss, the tools within the product make it easy for users to report a face or license plate for extra blurring. As always, users can still ask for their image to be removed from the product entirely. We'll also keep working hard to make sure that the technology continues to get even better.
A commitment to privacy
I strongly believe that this type of privacy-enabling technology, together with effective controls for users, is the best way of meeting the challenge of respecting people's expectation of privacy without stifling the development of new products and services that everyone can enjoy and benefit from. We have already been working with the relevant privacy regulators and groups in different countries in which we will offer Street View, including the UK. You may already be aware that Thursday's Tour de France launch was warmly welcomed by CNIL, the French data protection authority.
I hope that this letter provides satisfactory reassurance for the concerns which you have expressed about Street View. I'm sure you will understand that I cannot share the proprietary specifications for the technology which we have developed, but I believe that the results clearly demonstrate our commitment to provide practical and transparent privacy solutions.
I would be happy to meet with you when I am next in Europe, or when you are next in the US, if you would like to discuss these issues further - please just let me know.
Senior Privacy Counsel
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