Google’s Street View Criticized For Privacy Violation In Japan

December 22, 2008 0

Tokyo— Ever since it was launched in May, 2007, Google Street View has been constantly drawing criticism for intruding over people’s privacy. A group of Japanese journalists, lawyers and professors last week demanded that the US search giant Google Inc. to close down its “Street View” feature of Google Maps in the country, saying it violates people’s privacy, according to a Reuters report.

“We strongly suspect that what Google has been doing severely violates a basic right that humans have,” said Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of constitutional law at Sophia University in Tokyo and head of the Campaign Against Surveillance Society, in a telephonic interview with Reuters.

“It is our duty to warn society that an IT giant is openly violating privacy rights, which are important rights that the citizens have, through this service,” he said.

The Campaign Against Surveillance Society, a Japanese civilian group that Tajima heads, wants Google to stop providing its Street View service of Japanese cities and delete all saved images.

Google has attracted similar lawsuits in the past, but it is still moving right along. Earlier, a number of American citizens have already protested about the loss of privacy, closely followed by the British. Although at one point, Google has even dismissed one lawsuit bringer as being “out of touch with the real world.”

As the Google Street View cars rattles around the world’s largest cities clicking pictures from all angles, and they are not just landmarks and buildings being captured. They are also capturing people, events, and identifiable items such as car registration plates being pictured and uploaded for viewing by anyone on the Web.

“And now it the Japanese giving the search giant a sprint for taking pictures of unsuspecting bystanders.”

Google launched Street View in the United States last year, providing pictures of panoramic all-around street-level views at locations on its online maps, and most U.S. citizens focused on the positive, not worrying about the possible privacy infringements. Until a town in Minnesota did criticize it and as a result banned Google from coming anywhere near it.

Then a couple from Pittsburgh filed a suit against Google back in April for posting images of their home (which is located down a private access road) on Street View. Later there was uproar in Sonoma and Humboldt Counties, California over the same issue.

Then Google entered into Europe and privacy rights groups asked for clarification over the legality of what Street View was doing. Although the Information Commissioner’s Office backed Google wholeheartedly, there are still many people in the UK unhappy with the idea of their privacy being invaded.

And now Google is facing similar privacy violation issues in Japan after the Street View feature when the service was expanded to 12 major cities in Japan in August and six cities in France in October.

Google’s Street View renders ground-level, 360-degree views of streets in 12 Japanese cities and is also available for some 50 cities in the United States and certain areas in Europe. The service enables Web users to drive down a street, in a virtual sense, using their mouse to adjust views of roadside scenery.

Citing concern, the group said it sent a petition to Google’s Japanese subsidiary, demanding an end to the Street View service in Japan.

They wrote that Street View “constitutes violent infringement on citizens’ privacy by photographing residential areas, including community roads, and publishing their images without the consent of communities and citizens.”

They complained that via the Internet, Street View was distributing private information “more easily, widely, massively and permanently than ordinary cameras and surveillance cameras do.”

Local municipalities in Tokyo and Osaka have already made an appeal to the national government to take action against the site.

The group’s complaint may appear a bit harsh but when examined in the shiny light of day certainly seems to have some merit. The fact is that Japan is a more secretive and privacy-loving nation than most and local communities have not taken kindly to seeing their little piece of heaven plastered all over the Web for all and sundry to view.

Google was unable to immediately comment on its plans for Japan but directed attention to its Street View privacy site, which says the service respects people’s privacy:

“Street View only features photographs taken on public property and the imagery is no different from what a person can readily see or capture walking down the street. Imagery of this kind is available in a wide variety of formats for cities all around the world. We are committed to respecting local laws and norms in each country in which we launch Street View,” the page says. “We make it easy for users to ask to have photographs of themselves, their children, their cars or their houses completely removed from the product, even where the images have already been blurred.”

The Google Japanese unit earlier said it was blurring the faces of people seen in Street View scenes by special technology and that it would delete the pictures of people and buildings upon request.

Google began blurring faces in Street View in May.