What We've Learned Rolling Out Street View Around The Globe

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | 2:09 PM

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Street View on Google Maps is one of our most popular and fastest-growing products, but it's still a new technology that we're continuing to evolve. We've progressed a long way since the early prototypes collected their first imagery in 2007 and while rolling out Street View around the world we've learned that no two streets are the same.

New countries bring new challenges all the time -- be it the English weather, the darker winters of Northern Europe or even the sensitivities of a red light district. To give just one example, when we first started collecting imagery for Street View in the U.S. we realised that our cars wouldn't capture some of Europe's greatest landmarks which can be found down narrow streets or cobblestone paths. So we built a bicycle system that can tackle sights like Pompei or the Trevi Fountain.

And then there's privacy. We've learned a lot about what people are comfortable with in different parts of the world and we have worked hard to listen to their concerns and make adjustments where necessary. Before launching Street View imagery in a new country, we reach out to the Data Protection Authority to explain what the product is and how our privacy protection tools work, discussing our built-in features like license blurring and the ability to flag inappropriate images for removal.

We have also been in constructive dialogue and exchanged written information with the Article 29 Working Party which brings together representatives from all 27 European Data Protection Authorities. The Working Party has asked us to make a few modifications to ensure that Street View better aligns to local interpretations of European privacy requirements. For example, they asked us to take steps to notify the public in advance of when we're driving. As you can probably imagine, this can be a bit tricky due to ever-changing weather and lighting conditions, but we are committed to working within their guidelines. In fact, we had already got a head start on this request when we announced the beginning of driving in countries such as Poland, Czech Republic and Switzerland.

As with many cutting-edge technologies, the challenge we face with Street View is striking the right balance between building a sophisticated and highly useful tool while ensuring that the data we collect to provide these services is used appropriately. Street View has once again underlined the mantra our founders have repeated since the early days of Google: listen to users, take their feedback, and iterate. The many people across Europe who already use Street View to explore their home towns, tourist attractions or cities on the other side of the world, suggest that this approach is welcomed. We look forward to bringing these benefits to many more Google Maps users in the months to come.

Posted by Noam Ben Haim, Chief Cartographer, EMEA


claudia64 said...

I was unaware of this blog before now, but I'm glad to find it and to hear you present the steps you're taking to ease fears in various countries.

Google is getting too much bad press over Street View and much of it is hype based on ignorance. People need to understand that Street View is a new level of *mapping* and how it will work to make their lives easier, and that Google, as a company, is an innovator - not Big Brother or a company of spies.

So, yes, good for you for presenting in a respectful manner what's really happening in your negotiations with data protection agencies.

Georg said...

The stir Google streetview causes in EU is ridiculous - i have seen it making newspaper headlines here in Germany when they were mapping our city.

We (Germans) seems to be obsessed with privacy issues - but at the same time have the WORST history of all countries when it comes to protecting it.

Example: Former Eastern/Communist Germany where there literally was no such thing as a privacy...and of course what was going on in earlier history under the Nazi regime.

Now Google comes and maps our cities and people are freaking out.

Furthermore, i think it is astonishing that we have politicians so concerned about our privacy...while at the same time every webmaster is required by law to have an imprint on their site containing full name, address and phone number.

I don't think that mapping of our cities has ANY real negative impact on privacy at all, but that's just my opinion. Lighten up, Europeans!