Google's prying eyes arrive
Camera snapping region for a resource some call exciting, others call invasive
By Matt Walcoff, THE RECORD, Saturday, May 02, 2009
The next few weeks might not be the best time to go out and get the newspaper in your underwear. Parking your car outside your mistress's house wouldn't be such a good idea either.
Google's Street View camera car is in town, taking snapshots of our community for all the world to see.
Street View, a feature on the Google Maps application, allows users to see ground-level photographs of streets on a map.
Cars equipped with a 360-degree camera on top have taken tens of millions of pictures of streets, highways and rural lanes in at least 10 countries for Street View. Google is in the middle of a round of picture-taking in 11 Canadian urban regions, including the greater Golden Horseshoe.
The idea is to give map users an opportunity to see what a city really looks like beyond lines and shapes. It can help travellers find parking, meeting spots and public transit, for example.
"People are superexcited for it," said Google spokesperson Tamara Micenr. "People generally find it a really helpful tool, and it's hugely popular around the world."
But not all of Street View's pictures have been helpful -- or flattering.
In England, a Street View car caught a man vomiting on the street and another man exiting a sex shop. Google removed both photos after they received media attention.
Some have denounced Street View as an invasion of privacy. In the village of Broughton, England, angry residents formed a human chain to block the Street View car from taking pictures of their houses.
In 2007, Canada's privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, expressed concern that Street View may violate privacy legislation. Google is in discussions with Stoddart's office.
Micner noted Street View is set up to automatically blur faces and licence plates, and people can request the removal of images they feel invade their privacy.
"The cameras take still images, and it's not live, and it's not real time," she said. "So it's not like people are going to be filmed in real time (and) showing up on the internet or anything."
The first Street View images, from the U.S., appeared online in 2007. Google also took some pictures in Canada that year.
That first set of pictures from Canada should appear on Google Maps in a couple of weeks, Micner said. Images from the current round of picture-taking, which began in March, are likely to appear later this year.
Street View drivers prefer dry, cloudy days for picture-taking.
The Waterloo Region Record spotted a Street View car on Spring Street in downtown Waterloo yesterday. Other reports of Street View car sightings came in from Erbsville Road, Westmount Road, Columbia Street and King Street.
Other cities in this round of Street View pictures are Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Saint John, N.B.
Google has a development office in the University of Waterloo Research and Technology Park.