The European Union urged Google to provide people advance notice when its Street View vehicles are roving European streets to take pictures and asked that these images be deleted after six months. Google responded that its current retention period of one year is necessary to maintain the quality of the Street View service. Alex Turk, head of an EU data protection group, called Google's one-year retention period "disproportionate," and said that "maximum retention of 6 months for the unblurred copies of the images would strike the right balance between the protection of privacy and the ability to eliminate false positives."
The European Union called for Google to provide people advance notice when
its Street View vehicles are roving European streets to take pictures and asked
that these images be deleted after six months.
Google responded that its current retention period of one year is necessary
to maintain the quality of the Street View service, an add-on feature to Google
Maps that provides street-level views of 100-plus cities all over the world.
For Street View, Google deploys
cars, tricycles and bicycles fitted with cameras to
snap photos of urban streets. These pictures often include people, though
Google employs special technology to blur faces and license plates in the
pictures it captures. Some countries have not taken kindly to the service
because they believe it invades their privacy.
is suing Google
over Street View, calling for Google to erase
images of walled gardens and private streets. In April 2009, a group of British
a human chain to turn away a car shooting images for Street
View. Google last August refreshed
its Street View Website, creating a sort of
tutorial to show users how the tool works.
Now the EU's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party is cracking down on
Google's Street View practices.
In a Feb. 11 letter to Google obtained by eWEEK, the party's head Alex Turk
called for Google to let citizens know, through its Website and public
national, regional and local announcements, when its Street View vehicles will
be roaming streets to take pictures for Google's Maps database.
Turk further urged Google to avoid taking pictures of a "sensitive
nature," including "intimate details not normally observable by a
However, Turk dismissed Google's argument that it needs to retain unblurred
images for one year because its blurring software accidentally blots out sign
posts, statues or street names in images and Google wants to hold onto them to
improve its software.
"When benchmarking Street View immediately after it was launched in new
locations, the Working Party observed that the number of false positives
remains very low," Turk wrote, adding that Google's improvements to its
blurring technology may be attributed to the low number of false positives.
Calling Google's retention period "disproportionate," Turk said a
"maximum retention of 6 months for the unblurred copies of the images
would strike the right balance between the protection of privacy and the
ability to eliminate false positives."
Google Global Privacy Counselor Peter Fleischer indicated the company is not
budging from its stance, which Fleischer outlined in detail here in this October 2009 blog post
. Fleischer reiterated those reasons in a
statement sent to eWEEK.
"The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified-to
ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify
mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build
better maps products for our users. We have publicly committed to a retention
period of 12 months from the date on which images are published on Street View,
and this is the period which we will continue to meet globally."
Google has endured a difficult start to 2010
. Three executives, including
Fleischer, were convicted of privacy violations by an Italian court.
Three Web companies complained to the European Union about Google's
competition practices. In January, Google revealed that its servers had been
hacked and threatened to pull out of China
entirely because of it.