Google Street View Now in 50 Nations as Privacy Questions Linger

The Google Street View program has been controversial in many nations after user data was collected without public knowledge or permission from 2007 to 2010.

Google's Street View project now covers 50 nations around the world, providing images taken by Street View vehicles that are driven up and down countless thousands of miles of local streets as part of the company's global mapping efforts.

Two countries, Hungary and the Kingdom of Lesotho in Africa, are the latest being added to the growing project, according to an April 23 post by Ulf Spitzer, program manager of Google Street View, on the Google Lat Long Blog.

"Whether you're planning a summer vacation to visit the Colosseum or exploring potential neighborhoods for your next move, Street View gives you instant access to the places you want to see—even before you leave the house," wrote Spitzer.

"Today, we've reached 50 countries with the launch of Street View in Hungary and Lesotho and are significantly expanding our coverage in Poland and Romania, among other locations around the world. This is also the largest single update of Street View imagery we've ever pushed, including new and updated imagery for nearly 350,000 miles of roads across 14 countries."

For map lovers, Internet users and others, the project is a great resource for information, fascinating photographs of places away from home and a portal into life in other places.

But the 50-nation milestone being celebrated by Google is not without controversy. In many nations around the world, including the United States and a host of nations in Europe, government officials have been taking Google to task over Street View data collection efforts that the countries say were too invasive and violated some of their privacy laws.

Just this week, privacy regulators in Germany levied an $189,167 fine against Google to punish the company for not giving notice that it would be collecting user data as well as images using the Street View vehicle fleet after it began in 2007.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK in an interview that running into stricter laws in foreign nations is a fact of life that many companies eventually learn. "It's a fair point to bring up," said King. "The one caveat I'd have is that the trouble Google has been running into in Germany and elsewhere is actually fairly common in enterprises that work on a global basis. They should have known going into Germany, which is one of the strictest countries in Europe in terms of privacy law, that running around taking pictures using cars could get them in hot water."

The Street View program came under scrutiny both in the United States and in Europe after it was learned that Google was gathering the information street-by-street between 2007 and 2010, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Google didn't just collect photos of houses and businesses; it also intercepted data from WiFi modem transmissions that included personal data such as passwords, emails, text messages, users' Internet usage histories as well as other WiFi information. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the Street View vehicles had collected more than 200GB of such payload data.