Google to Blur Personal Data on Street View Upon Request — But Requesting Remains Difficult

Given the obvious privacy concerns with Google’s Street View imaging system (as well as Microsoft’s Windows Live Local Virtual Earth), you would think providers of such services would make it easy for privacy-threatening content to be flagged and removed. While Google did provide a means to flag “unacceptable images” in Street View, I noticed right away how hard it was to figure out how to do that, while others noted the hoops one had to jump through in order to actually get it done.

In a positive move, Google has changed their policy to make it easier to have sensitive information removed. Now anyone can notify Google and have an image of a license plate or a recognizable face blurred, even if it isn’t yours/you. The problem, as Nicole Ozer at the ACLU of Northern California recognizes, is that Google hasn’t changed the interface for initiating the process to make it more intuitive for people:

…there is no direct link from a Street View image to request take-down of a photo for privacy or security concerns. Individuals must know to click on the “Street View Help” link at the top of any image and then scroll down to the bottom of that box and click on “Report Inappropriate Image.” See here.

If Google is really serious about ensuring that people can protect their privacy and security by requesting take-down of images, they should add a direct link entitled “Request Take Down” or “Flag for Removal” to the top of each Google Street View image.

Like I’ve said before, privacy-enhancing changes won’t enhance anyone’s privacy if they don’t know about it or can’t figure out how to take advantage of it. Google: if user privacy is a priority, foreground it on your product interfaces.

UPDATE: I woke up this morning and remembered that Google already has employed simple facial recognition algorithms in their Image search.  If Google wanted to be serious — and proactive — about user privacy they could simply  scrub the entire Street View image database and automatically blur every face they come across. The tools are there — all it needs is the will.

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