Rory Cellan-Jones

My Street View of shame...

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 19 Mar 09, 14:04 GMT

I'm at a conference today on the future of the media as we navigate the deepest recession any of us in this industry can remember - so as you can imagine the room is full of some very worried looking people. The most cheerful among them is the brand new boss of Google UK, Matt Brittin.

He's plenty of reasons to be happy. After all he has just taken over at what must be Britain's most powerful - or at least richest - media business, which overtook ITV as the biggest advertising earner last year. And despite the various concerns about Google's growing power which I outlined on this blog earlier this week, the business continues to churn out new products which draw an even bigger audience to its site.

Today's effort is Street View, the Google Maps add-on service which started in the US and now gives a street level view of 25 major cities in the UK.

It's one of those ideas that goes "viral" very quickly - I've been getting messages all morning from people who've been checking out what their house or street looks like - or at least how it appeared when Google's Street View cars combed their area last year.

Street View

Finally, I couldn't resist having a go myself - and was somewhat dismayed to find that the folks from Google had dropped by on the very day I'd put the rubbish and recycling out, and just a couple of days before my herculean efforts to tidy the front garden.

Now this is all good fun but it also raises a couple of questions. Such as what does this mean for our privacy - and what does Google hope to achieve with street View?

Matt Brittin told the Changing Media conference that the whole privacy issue had been sorted, with the Information Commissioner giving his blessing to the project, and a big effort by Google to "blob" any faces or car number-plates caught by its cameras.

He also promised that anyone who is unhappy to have their home featured in Street View will be able to get in touch and have it removed.

Mind you, that raises the prospect of streets pockmarked with blurry gaps where homeowners have objected - surely that will only make them even more conspicuous?

I think the privacy row will die down - after all Street View has been introduced elsewhere without much bother - but then there'll be more questions about what exactly the product is for.

After the initial interest when we all check out our streets, the traffic will probably die down - have you used Google Earth much lately? But Google is hoping that its new product may be particularly attractive on mobile phones as a navigational tool.

And let's not forget that the whole search business is all about generating advertising revenue - so presumably the hunt will be on for ways to monetise Street View.

Location-based services - in other words advertising for products based on knowledge of where you are - are all the rage now.

Does that mean adverts will start appearing for my local garden centre next to the picture of my shabby front garden? I'd better have given it a trim by the time the cameras return.


  • Comment number 1.

    Living in St. Paul, MN in the US, I have actually found streetview surprisingly useful. Whenever I need to travel to an area with which I am unfamiliar, it's always nice to be able to take a look at my destination so I can get a clearer idea of any odd intersections, what side of the road my destination is on, if it's behind some trees, etc.

    If I'm traveling to a business, the location that Google Maps gives can be way off due to the business being in a mall or for many other reasons. Sometimes the data is just plain wrong. Being able to get a good look around to verify everything is as it should be has saved me many headaches.

    Ultimately, it's a lot easier to check out an unfamiliar area and find a building from the comfort of your web browser than it is when you're driving past it at 30+ mph.

  • Comment number 2.

    It means you get rubbish pictures.

  • Comment number 3.

    Now, those weeds didn't grow overnight, Rory! ;-)

  • Comment number 4.

    Well, since everyone wants to talk about the privacy aspect; one thing I noticed, when having a look at it, today, is the sheer number of CCTV cameras, there are, on our streets. I think. because the Steetview car's cameras are at about the same level as the fixed CCTV cameras, they are much more noticable than they would be if you were just walking around underneath the. Maybe the privacy activists should give some thought to this aspect, since - fearsome as Google may seem - it is but one target. All those surveilance systems are running in real time, and make no effort to preserve our annonymity (quite the contrary, in fact) and are often run by private companies which we'd probably have quite a job, tracking down, should we wish to.

    As for what it's good for... Well, I have an author friend who thinks she'll find it very useful, for visiting the scenes she wants to include in her crime novels (or even just get the feel of a particular district). The coverage is still quite low, of course. Fortunately she writes stories set in big inner cities: wouldn't have been much use to Agatha Christie.

  • Comment number 5.

    Street View? Let us bring it down further to Room View and let all those voyeurs get an eye-full.

    How long before they link into CCTV networks and get Real-Time View. Connect it through the GPS system and everyone becomes a phone number on a map to monitor day and night.

    1984 has arrived - 25 years later

  • Comment number 6.

    Does Google make a habit of filming on Bin Day?

    My street is pictured with all the bins out as well!

    Gee thanks, that'll help the property prices.

  • Comment number 7.

    I've found Street View very useful when visiting new locations, it's much better than a map for many purposes. It's also interesting that my family in the UK can check out where I live in Brisbane, Australia, and get a good impression of the area.

    And if you're playing Fallout 3 set in post-nuclear apocalypse Washington DC, you can have Street View on a second monitor to help you navigate the city and its environs!

  • Comment number 8.

    Rory, someone standing in that location with a professional camera and a tripod could also have legally taken a picture on that day. Maybe if some political good will come from Street View (aside from the immense value of the service itself) it will be that photography in public is (rightly) not seen as something that needs 'permission'.

  • Comment number 9.

  • Comment number 10.

    Somebody has knocked my old house down, from when i was 7! It's in (was) the middle of a terrace...and it's just my old one from 40 years ago they've knocked down.

    How very dare they!

  • Comment number 11.

    I can quite adequately understand why people fear it is the dawn of an Orwellian totalitarianist regime, whereby thousands of people are vapourised for no good reason and people are forced to subject themselves to an imaginary figure as leader, since Google has started taking photos of their backyard.

    (Actually, I don't. But heck, for the sake of argument, let's say I do.)

    But I cannot imagine why we have, as a culture, a deeply-embedded phobia of people having a gander at us, a quick peek, just because they feel exposed and uncomfortable.

    You can have a look at my front door if you like. Marvel as you examine the indentations of my stone wall. Gasp as you count the tiles that layer my pathway. Ooze as you trickle your gaze down my piping systems and wires.

    Because frankly, it doesn't matter. Google Street View is a wonderful innovation, it will enhance our perspectives of places that we have not visited, if we choose to see them before arrival (and remember, choice is a good thing, and we can choose not to use it).

    Instead of flying unnecessarily back to your birthplace, on a whimsical adventure, to experience the street in which you grew up, and the neighbouring streets surrounding, you can use Street View to zoom in on what, frankly, wasn't that nice a place to grow up anyway. And fly somewhere more exciting!

    And I'm sure I can entertain you with more ways in which this will enrich our lives. One thing it will not do, however, is threaten it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Not quite sure what the "Privacy Brigade" are getting all steamed up about - does Google Street View show us something that we can't see by actually visiting the streets ourselves?

    Thought not... it's just something else to make their voices heard about.

  • Comment number 13.

    Oh dear Rory they caught you having a life, and here was I thinking that you were just a picture at the top of a blog...

    I don't care if where I live is pictured on a "street view" app, just so long as the picture is a still and not a live webcam feed of where I live.

  • Comment number 14.

    Wonderful cartoon by Matt in the Telegraph today, police complaining that Street View is spying on their CCTV cameras...

  • Comment number 15.

    In the UK we are the most watched country and citizens in the world. Why is anyone getting on Google's case for a service that is fun and helpful when we really should be insisting that our privacy should be given back to us and remove all the CCTV cameras. I live in the US and there are next to no CCTV cameras because your privacy is part of the law and no one would stand for it (no speed camera either) - and no one complains about Google street view either. Are Google taking the brunt for their service where really it should be the government who takes it for the total lack of privacy in our lives by being videoed everywhere we go.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm delighted with this feature. I often need to have fixed in my mind what my destination looks like when I am going to a new place and this will help.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm sorry, but I can give no respect whatsoever to anyone that can complain about Street View.

    Google have been the innovators of the Digital Age, bringing the new ideas and products that some couldn't have even imagined even 10 years ago!

    If people don't like their house being online, or they're blurred face while they've been out shopping, then tough I say. How is it any different from someone taking a picture on the street of you and posting it online? How is it any different from someone walking down your street and looking for themselves? At least Google have tried to respect you by making the effort to blur your face.

    So, I see my blurred face on Google and I complain. It gets taken off.

    Now to hunt down every photo ever taken of me that is on facebook, myspace, my friends computers, their photo albums...

    Privacy means nothing the moment you step outside the door. Anyone happen to notice the recession, or were you too busy complaining that your BLURRED picture is online?

  • Comment number 18.

    i dont understand what everyone is going on about, the same images on the site are the same things you can find by walking down the street itself. and it does help when looking on maps to see the street not just the tops of buildings, unless you can fly seeing the top of buildings wont really help. we should be more worried about what information is left just by leaving a message on a site, your ip address leaves more information then the pictures.

  • Comment number 19.

    It's not an invasion of privacy because Google are a hip and "friendly" company that people like. If this exact same thing was done by a less liked company (e.g. Microsoft) or by the government, for example, there's no doubt many would be up in arms at this.

    Yet many of the people who normally play up the privacy implications of CCTV cameras, are the same ones playing down the privacy implications of Google’s street view (despite it in effect being still images from CCTV cameras taken outside, what will soon be, every house in Britain). It just goes to show how easily swayed people always are by marketing and stereotypes.

  • Comment number 20.

    I had a look at Swansea and noticed that streetview had blurred the Welsh version on some of the roadsigns. I assume the numberplate detection got confused by the non-standard letter patterns. Curiously the English on the same sign is un-blurred. If nothing else, at least streetview brings a bit of relief from bi-lingual everything - if only briefly!

  • Comment number 21.

  • Comment number 22.

    No matter WHAT they invent, there will be someone complaining for this, that and the other reason. They're just never happy.

    I was in a shop in Anglesey on a two day break last week and they had the radio on... whilst my wife was looking at pretty dainty things, I was listening to the debate about computer games and children.

    It was a totally flawed argument because, surprise surprise, they mentioned Grand Theft Auto IV. Which has nothing to do with children. Because it's not a game for children, it's got an 18 rating!!

    Anyway... a few minutes later, the interviewer mentioned Wii Fit to his (female) guest who was the complainer.

    And guess what, she complained about that too. "Why don't the children just play outside?" she said, without considering that when it's frosty, freezing and tipping it down with rain, they might appreciate a gadget which helps them to get exercise, and actually gives advice+tips and monitors progress too.

    Some people complain, because it's all they know how to do!

  • Comment number 23.

    I've been looking on Street View and have found a a blooper at Google Headquarters: 1838 Amphitheatre Pkwy on streetview. There is what appears to be a headless woman!

  • Comment number 24.

    If you want to case out somewhere you'd like to burgle this saves having to stand on the street corner looking suspicious. You can get a feel for the place before you go then just look for the specifics when you pass by.
    Crims & scallys will love this one.

  • Comment number 25.

    I used street view yesterday to evaluate car service centers. I was able to dismiss a couple broken down looking places in bad neighborhoods because I knew my car service would take a few hours and I wanted somewhere that I would feel comfortable walking down the street and getting a cup of coffee or lunch.

    It is an amazingly valuable free resource, much more beneficial than anything the Government has done in 20 years.

  • Comment number 26.

    Street View also works on iPhone. So, when you travel somewhere you will know what to expect. Great if it's used in a appropriate way...

  • Comment number 27.

    A little off-topic and radio 4-like, but this jars so much I have to state this.

    While you use the English spelling of 'monetise' it still isn't a real word, but one of those ugly Americanisms that seem to be permeating into our language.

    Please use 'make money from' in future. That's the way I would have been told to use it when I was at school (albeit quite a long time ago), and the fact that such a natural and simple English phrase exists, gives NO ONE any excuse to use these awful words.

    Another such word to be avoided at all costs is 'incentivise'. 'To incentivise someone' can quite happily be replaced with 'to give someone the incentive to...'

  • Comment number 28.

    @anonymous_4 - I believe this is cultural and natural, and represents the need for America, a dominant English-speaking country, to exercise modern linguistic creativity.

    Most of the larger words we use as utterly synthetic, made by scholars of Greek or Latin. Even the word 'alright' was said to have been invented by the novelist, James Joyce.

    I'm sure even the word 'anonymous', with Greek verbal tendencies, was just devised by some uppity Greek scholar!

    Google Street View. Making conversation divergence, easy.

  • Comment number 29.

    I still find it comical that my home town (Scunthorpe by the way) was one of the 25 which went live, as it is far from a city and even further from a major one.

    But I couldn't resist "driving" around and checking out my house and then continued to check out the rest of the area.

    But I'd hardly consider it to be an invasion of privacy. I see more during my morning jog than I do on Street View. It is just another case of over sensitivity.

  • Comment number 30.

    I don't think there's any privacy issues with Google Street View. As Google have said, they take pictures of whatever the naked eye would see had you been walking or driving down a street yourself.

    Those that have complaints about them being on the photos are being a bit silly. Besides, it's likely that it's only themselves that recognise themselves on the photo and so what's the problem.

    I, personally, would be quite privileged to see myself on Google Street View. Unfortunately, I'm not there.

  • Comment number 31.

    I am sorry, am I missing something?

    What is the real use of this tool other than more online advertising opportunities for Google?

    Like most technologies it will not actually make anything easier or faster, it will simply add a layer of complication.

    Other than that it has a slightly strange curiosity value

  • Comment number 32.

    The images collected by Google have a demonstrable financial impact. This will be reflected in their end of year finances. In that respect they are intellectual property with value and worth. The intellectual property originates from those who are photographed, not from Google.

    There is no argument to be made that this is an activity, such as Bresson carried out, of making art and having some kind of Photographers Privilege. These photographs are obtained, without any kind of fair obtaining clause, purely to provide Google with content. They have more in common with CCTV images. Which begs the question of why nobody has questioned if they were obtained using the same legal restrictions as any CCTV operator has placed upon them.

    The disputes, in the past, about adverts in Time Square being removed or included in blockbuster film sequence shows that commercial interests do believe that there is value in an image. Similarly, the voracious appetite of the media for images demonstrates that there is a market for such images.

    Given the huge commercial possibilities arising from this venture and the huge profits to be made, why is the public not seeing any direct financial benefit? Google can witter on about all of the wonderful services that it provides for free, but the bottom line is these services are not free. They are funded by the appropriation of other peoples' intellectual proeperty.

    Those people who do not use the various services that Google offer are disenfranchised and, effectively, pay a private tax for being disenfranchised. Much as Facebook have sought to grab people's intellectual property, Google have appropriated private intellectual property without compensation.

    When some prankster turns up at various coporate offices with digital cameras in hand there will be much talk of trespass, lawbreaking and intrusion into commercial secrets. These actions will not be seen to be defensible in the way that Google sees its mendacity as defensible. The argument will arise from commercial interest - which seems to justify anything. Personal Privacy is not privileged in the same way as Commerical Privacy. Until people start demanding and enforcing payment for the intrusions of commerce into their private lives that privilege will remain.

  • Comment number 33.

    I can certainly appreciate the curiosity value of this. When it went live I like many others went and looked at my house, my neighbourhood, various previous houses, workplaces etc, to see what had changed. But the novelty quickly wears off, not least because it's quite clunky and doesn't run very well on many computers.

    It's also almost a year out of date.

    Anyone casing my house to burgle would see lots of shrubs and big beautiful trees to sneak around and hide behind, unfortunately if they actually showed up here they'd be stuffed as said trees were all removed a month ago in a council regeneration project.

    I'm a planning officer and frequently use MS Live Maps' 'bird's-eye' view to familiarise myself with an area prior to visiting it, or print off shots from different angles, and label crucial features for later reference or to point them out to interested parties. However I can't really think of many practical applications for Streetview, since it's not recent enough (or in many cases detailed enough) to serve as a substitute for a site visit.

    I suspect it will remain a curiosity, though I have to say on a darker note the potential convergence of some of these technologies (mobile phone tracking being the most obvious) does give me cause for concern as to what uses the government and employers, both of whom I've long ago ceased to trust to act in our interests, could put them to.

  • Comment number 34.

    Yes google will make money from this tool.

    But google also make money from their basic search engine which is still by far the most powerful tool on the internet, yet nobody complains about it.

  • Comment number 35.

    @Poster Number 5
    Well done for proving you've never read 1984.

  • Comment number 36.

    May be its illegal as in some countries it is an arrestable offence to take photos of city centres ect airports and roads.
    you are only allowed to photgraph with permission in certain spots

  • Comment number 37.

    Apparently Google's software engineers don't know we have black people in the UK. I checked out my local High Street, and all the full-on (and most of the three-quarter view) faces are blurred out, with the glaring exception of two black faces e.g. the guy on the bus stop bench at [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    It's blurred out everyone else in that scene, but not him, even though he's staring straight into the camera. Bizarrely, if you now click three arrows to the right and swing the viewpoint around 180 degrees to the woman standing on the pavement opposite him, it's blanked out her face AND the shopping bag she's holding.

    Back to the drawing board, guys!

  • Comment number 38.

    I don't know how you can question the usefulness of this. I frequently send people links to try and describe how to find a place. For them to be able to go down to street level and look at a junction or entrance to a building is incredibly useful. I used it yesterday to find the location of a party I was taking my daughter to.

    What about house hunting? Looking to move to a new area - just cruse up and down in Street View first - we have already used it for this and we aren't even actively house hunting...

  • Comment number 39.

    Come on... Give it a rest. Why make a fuss and rub everybody's faces off the street? Have we got better things to worry about??

  • Comment number 40.

    I frequently neewd to travel to new places. I google the location, then use street view on the approaches to help me to avoid overshooting the address. I find it very useful. I don;t understand the concern about privacy when in public places.
    Bill Shockey

  • Comment number 41.

    Welcome to 'The shopping channel for car thieves'. Choose which car you want to steal from the comfort of your room. Invite your mates and round and browse at your leisure the great selection of cars on offer. Plan your theft without having the worry of being spotted casing the street first. Beat those neighbourhood watch people hands down.
    What ever happened to ordinary maps? Are people so dumbed down these days they need everything in 'Janet & John' pictures?

  • Comment number 42.

    Truth is Rory at the moment street view it is an invasion of privacy.

    If it had been taken at normal public viewing height (i.e. 5'6") your garden wouldn't be seen in all it's glory.

    If a member of the public (or perhaps the paps) got on a high stepladder and took a picture of your house and stuck it on the internet with your address then that would count as an invasion of privacy. How come this is different ?

    I think it's a great idea, but by sticking the camera on top of a long pole they are revealing stuff behind 7' fences that the public can't see (private family picnics spring to mind already) and that is an invasion of privacy. (I mean, that's why we like getting on double decker buses isn't it)

    Make them do the whole lot again with the camera at normal head height - then no issue as it would then genuinely be a public view of the world. At the moment - it isn't.

  • Comment number 43.

    Many of the images of London were taken from cameras in Buses - the level is equal to the dark bus plate that hides cameras - oncoming busses in the stills demonstrates this perfectly.

    Did Google pay TfL for the images? If so, did our fares drop thanks to the revenue?

    These buses are also fitted with live cams, just so you know that what Google (and others) have here is just the tip of the iceberg. No doubt BB has access to each and every bank of cams in them.

    It's not until one looks up (or at a plain vehicle with blacked out windows and odd looking boxes sticking out everywhere or a cam post disguised as a street lamp) that they realize the sheer number of cameras out there.

    Too many to justify. But then again, TV shows like Big Brother have eased you all into blindly accepting cameras in your face without a second thought for the consequences, be it occasionally useful or simply intrusive in the main.

  • Comment number 44.

    It's interesting that more is said about this than about 'oblique aerial photography' (OAP). An excellent example is Microsoft's 'Live' Maps - which have a 'bird's eye' using OAP. Here's an example of Broadcasting House -

    Apparently OAP is used by many councils to monitor for offences of the planning laws. Like looking for new extensions to housing, additional windows... etc.

    Streetview certainly goes a step further, but why should anyone panic... it's a bit like the people that panic over 'id cards' ... doesn't anyone realise that they are already there, it's the mobile phone that everyone carries!

    Giving up some areas of privacy in order to get something useful.

    Big Brother? It's a little late to complain.

  • Comment number 45.

    I don't understand the fuss RE privacy in "Street View". The shots in street view aren't updated every minute - people who are worried about privacy should be more concerned with the 24/7 surveillance that we've got in this country from the fixed cameras on every street corner...

  • Comment number 46.

    CCTV's much worse than this. Biometric Passports. The proposed ID card scheme. Did you know that if you send a text message to a certain number from somebody's mobile you can then track where that phone is IN REAL TIME on the internet, via a free website! DNA registers, child service registers, data sticks left by government officials on trains and in pubs.

    Can anyone honestly say that the biggest threat to our 'privacy' in this country is someone on the internet just being able to see over your garden fence? Honestly?

    We sit back and let these things happen because we're told they're in our best interests, and maybe they are, but Street View is definitely not the thing people preoccupied with their privacy should be compaining about.

  • Comment number 47.

    I've avoided the privacy debate because in principal Street View doesn't show anything you can't see anyway but it does appear invasive when the property windows are as close to the roads as they often are in the UK.

    However, I am wondering when the Google driver is going to be questioned on his inconsiderate driving, I've seen speeding issues raised elsewhere but I also came across this hapless family trying to use a zebra crossing at the British Museum when having a quick explore...,-4.064941&sspn=21.665954,57.128906&ie=UTF8&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=51.518273,-0.126035&panoid=UGDhnTIFyys6L5AmIQWu0A&cbp=12,55.790763527713736,,0,8.669230769230767

  • Comment number 48.

    I have done that which I have never done before..expose myself on the "I".
    However, the stret cameras are a simple way of 'testing' our acceptance to the all intrusive 'big brother', watch-dogging people.
    We are moving to a global state of "Logan's Run'.
    In real-time, these cameras provide an inordinate inspection/observation/intrusion of the public at large.
    It is not, certainly, for the benefit of the public, merely to spy on us!
    That's my 2-cents or 1 Gill!

  • Comment number 49.

    At least we can prove they collect the bins!

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 50.

    It can be useful, I know of a group of artists who use Street View to find locations to paint.

    They are a worldwide group and paint from the Street View image.

  • Comment number 51.

    Does this mean it's easier to do the knowledge, and does away with the need to pootle around London on a moped with a clipboard?

  • Comment number 52.

    Shut down Google Street View? Why not burn all those intrusive Ordinance Survey Maps as well!

  • Comment number 53.

    I can't see what the fuss about the images is? Year old still photos! Big Deal.

    Start getting wound up about all the thousands of real time snoopy CCTV cameras and dodgy DNA databases first - they are the real threat.

    If anybody has been caught in a 'compromising position' or throwing up due to being so drunk outside a pub - by Street View one has to think - serves you right for getting in that state in the first place.

    Presumably anyone walking past at the same time could have seen it and if they so wished snapped a quick piccy on their phone and who cares?

  • Comment number 54.

    I also find this a very useful and fascinating resource. I'm planning a trip in the next couple of days and found it very helpful to pinpoint where my hotel is actually situated.

    Are the privacy grumblers going to start complaining and suing if someone looks at them a little longer than they really should while carrying on their everyday lives?

    Give it a rest!

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 56.

    I just wish Google Map would update. the satellite pictures taken over our Market Town are 7 years old at least. There are three big new housing estates which are not shown, only the start of the building works for the first. Searching for addresses in these new streets doesn't work.

    This year we are to have the final part of the inner ring road constructed which will change the town's traffic flow, some roads have been made one way in preparation for this, and anyone using Google for navigation/information will be totally flummoxed when they get here.

    I've noticed on many of the Street View pictures that faces in cars overtaking the Google camera car are not blurred out. Yhere's a lovely shot on St Augustine's Road Camden Town London of a female cyclist who appears to be riding a unicycle as the back wheel is detached several feet behind! Also found a street in central Leeds, alongside public open space, that the camera car failed to drive down, it went round the other 3 sides of the park.

  • Comment number 57.

    regards from Japan

    Now days many local goverments in Japan say to Japanese Parlament
    'We are Against Google Street View!'

    JAPANESE say No Need Google Street View!!

    If you have time
    please check this web from Japan

    from Japan

  • Comment number 58.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites