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by Lucy Griffiths on 20th April 2009
Google’s Street View has been around since 2007, but was only recently launched in the United Kingdom. It is an extension of the Google Earth and Google Maps tools that allows users to have panoramic street level views of areas all across the country. Street View has been met with a mixture of wonder and suspicion, is it a fabulous and invaluable mapping tool, a bit of fun or an invasion of privacy with sinister purpose and potential?
Within only a few days, the UK version of Google Street View was attracting considerable criticism and condemnation. But were the villagers of Broughton in Buckinghamshire right to refuse one of the Google Street View cars access to their village? Surely it’s not really used to ‘facilitate crime’ or ‘invade privacy’ as they have expressed? It may be an overreaction; but Downing Street and the Police and Army in Northern Ireland have all demanded images removed from Street View.
Google Street View is breaking no laws; the face and car registration plate blurring technology has allowed Street View to be used by Google legally in the United Kingdom without having to comply with Data Protection law. Google defended its service by claiming that it is nothing more than what people see with their eyes every day. It also highlighted that it had created accessible ways of ‘flagging inappropriate or sensitive imagery for removal.’ It is difficult to see how a static view of anywhere could have too many criminal uses. But privacy activists counter-claim that the tool will eventually lead to someone losing their job, getting hurt or ending their marriage, and on that day, there will be no recourse against Google’s omni-present permission-less intrusion.
But Google don’t seem too concerned; there are many benefits to having a three dimensional aspect to their Street View web tool. Now if you are going somewhere unfamiliar, not only can you map out the route on Google Maps, but you can also look at the place that you are going to, before you go there.
Of course, there are many future business uses, someone trying to find your business will now not only be able to plan their route but also see what your business looks like before they arrive. Google have begun to integrate their search technology with Street View, so that businesses have a new way to advertise their services and market themselves online. Now someone searching for businesses in their local area will be able to see exactly where that business is, if they choose to shop with you online or visit you in person, they have a direct connection to your business, through the imagery. This also further enhances a company’s credibility because seeing the business is a good way to feel comfortable about buying from that business.
Inevitably, Google built this new toy at great expense for one reason, to further enhance their own business opportunities and whilst some people complain about it, the reality is that innovation is hardly ever welcome until we see a purpose for it ourselves. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, if it doesn’t make revenue for Google and for the companies that use Google to generate business, it will become obsolete. The more successful it becomes, the more carefully the world will have to pay attention to how it is used.