Google Street View in India Faces Challenges

Google started collecting data for its Street View project in Bangalore on Thursday, but is being very careful not to run into controversies about privacy or government concerns about security, a company executive said.

By John Ribeiro
Thu, May 26, 2011

IDG News Service — Google (GOOG) started collecting data for its Street View project in Bangalore on Thursday, but is being very careful not to run into controversies about privacy or government concerns about security, a company executive said.

The company holds that its Street View images are likely to be useful to people, businesses and the government. Ambulances and fire engines, for example, will find it easier to get to their destinations if they have access to the maps, said Vinay Goel, product head at Google India.

Google is coordinating with the local police and federal government agencies to get clearances and keep them informed about what the company is doing, he added. As far as possible, it would prefer to launch its Street View image collection at the invitation of local state governments.

Goel said that the people's faces and vehicles' license plates will be blurred to ensure that they are not identifiable. The data on the faces and the number plates will not be deleted, because Google may have to go back to the data, for example in case someone claims that it wasn't blurred properly, he added.

Google will also take the opinion of the government and other authorities about the level of detail it can go into, when taking images of installations that are considered sensitive by the government, Goel said.

In 2005, India's former president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, criticized Google Earth and other online satellite mapping services for exposing sensitive installations in developing countries to terrorists.

Data protection authorities in a number of countries are investigating Street View service, after the company said last year that its camera cars mistakenly collected data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks while compiling images of city streets for its Google Maps site.

"There is a lot that we have learnt over time," Goel said. "We have now said that we aren't looking at any of that Wi-Fi payload information as part of Street View."

Google is launching its Street View in India even as the country has tightened privacy rules. New rules place controls on the collection and use by companies of "sensitive personal information" such as a person's physical, physiological and mental health condition, sexual orientation, medical records and history, and biometric information.

An image of a person walking in the street may not be considered as sensitive personal information, but it is in a legal gray area where people can claim that their privacy has been encroached upon, said Pavan Duggal, a cyber law consultant and advocate in India's Supreme Court.

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