Google Crowdsources Google Maps, Erases Street View Data

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-09

Google this week took additional steps to let users crowdsource its Google Maps application, allowing U.S. users to point out gaps in the search engine giant's Google Maps coverage.

Now, when users search and scan map results, they will see a "report a problem" link on the bottom right of a the map, or by right-clicking on the map itself.

For example, if a new highway ramp opens up, or construction is being done on a particular highway, users can alert Google to those changes, helping the company keep its Maps results accurate, current, and therefore, more relevant. See a video demo of this feature in action here.

Andrew Lookingbill, Google software engineer, said Google will sift through users' submissions of this data, corroborate it with other users, sources and imagery, and make changes where they make sense. Google hopes to resolve each edit within a month and will keep users apprised of its editing process if they so choose.

This isn't the first time Google has enlisted the wisdom of crowds for Google Maps. In August, Google rolled out live reporting of traffic conditions on back roads for some cities.

When people who have enabled Google Maps with My Location on their smartphones use Google's traffic map tool, their phones sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast they're moving. Google compares travelers' speed across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, and send it back to users in the Google Maps traffic layers.

Google isn't just appealing to consumers for help mapping the United States on the Web. The company this week created a new base map dataset leveraging geospatial datasets from the USDA Forest Service and the US Geological Survey to boost parks and water bodies. There are also more maps of college campuses, and more maps of trails and paths for cyclists.

Google Maps' Street View, which provides providing 360?? horizontal and 290?? vertical street-level views of city streets, also got a shot in the arm this week by rolling out to cover Canada and the Czech Republic and offering new high-resolution imagery across the U.S., and several special destinations in Japan through the Street View Partner Program.

Street View, which is now available in 14 countries, is also being rigorously amended by Google to meet citizens' privacy rights. In August, Google created a Street View tutorial to explain how it works to users, and how to go about getting an image removed..

Earlier this week, Google moved to address concerns about Street View from the European Union, which in June asked Google to give advance notice to the public before collecting images and to jettison un-blurred images used to create Street View.

Google, which blurs faces and license plates before publishing them on Street View, agreed to permanently blur images on its internal database within one year of their publication on Street View. This means that Google will only keep the blurred version.

"We think one year strikes a reasonable balance between protecting people's privacy and our ability to reduce mistakes in blurring, as well as use the data we have collected to build better maps products," wrote Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel.

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