Protecting Privacy on Google Street View: No Walk in the Park

Jun 15, 2007
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

An update to an earlier posting about the new Google map Street View feature.

The issue of still photography of the public streets presents the need to balance two important civil liberties issues- the right to privacy and the free speech right to photography in public spaces which has also been under assault since 9/11.

However, particularly with Google now having face recognition technology for photo search, the privacy implications of these types of photo-based services will only grow.

In addition to the core privacy concerns related to Street View that were discussed in the earlier post, it turns out that the process for requesting the take- down of photos that present privacy and security concerns is quite difficult.

The Street View tutorial does not include information about the process for requesting take-down of a photo.

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.

Since information about the take-down process is not included in the tutorial and "Help" is not an intuitive link for requesting take-down, individuals have been confused about how to initiate the process.

Now, it turns out that even after finding the way to request take-down of a photo, in order to protect your privacy and get your photo removed, you actually have to give Google more information about yourself, including a copy of your drivers' license or another picture ID and submit a sworn statement.

Privacy advocate. Kevin Bankston, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was actually photographed in a Street View. Click here for more information.

When Kevin initiated the photo take-down request, first he had to submit his email address and then Google informed him that he had to submit the following information:

1. Legal name.

2. Email address.

3. A clear, readable copy of a valid photo ID (e.g. driver's license, national ID card, etc). If you are requesting removal of an image of a location, attach a copy of a document demonstrating your association with that location ( e.g. business card or letterhead).

4. Provide the street view address of the Street View image you would like removed.

5. Include the sworn statement: "I declare, under penalty of perjury, that the information in this notification is accurate."

Google should have done much more on the front end to protect people's privacy before releasing a product like Street View (developed a technology to obscure faces) and certainly should be doing more on the back-end in terms of a more accessible and much less privacy-invasive process for people to request take-down of photos that present privacy and security concerns to the individual.

If you have comments about the new Street View for me or to pass onto the representatives at Google, please send me an email by clicking on the "Send your comments" link below.