The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has finally given a verdict on the legality of Google Street View going live in the UK, and fortunately for Google (and the millions of people that find the novelty useful and entertaining) it is one that says the online service including the continuing expansion should not be stopped.
This follows claims by many people that it should not be allowed for many different reasons — the most common two being that it infringes people’s privacy, and that it facilitates crime by allowing potential burglars to map out their route and identify weak spots without leaving their home.
However the ICO ruled that although it carries a small risk of privacy invasion removing Google Street View would be “disproportionate to the relatively small risk of privacy detriment”. It is definitely encouraging to see a watchdog use some common sense — listening to the quiet majority rather than the very vocal minority.
And in all fairness the minority has been very vocal — you will probably remember when the residents of Broughton created a blockade to physically stop the car taking the pictures for Google Street View from entering the village, claiming that it facilitated crime and infringed their privacy.
However, Google have always claimed that they operated within the law, and in addition to the automatic face blurring manual blurring and the removal of some images has taken place — the speed of which this was done did not go unnoticed by the ICO.
In fact the ICO verged on the complimentary, and said that it was passers-by being caught on TV cameras and that we should not “turn the digital clock back” — and this kind of optimism for advancing technology will be warmly welcomed not just by Google but the tech-community in the UK as well.
So despite the 79 official complaints, Google Street View (UK) will still be with us, but unfortunately I don’t think this will be the last that we hear of the problem. As more and more areas are covered by the system more and more people will take objection to it, and you can expect to see this crop up again next time it is updated.
Not only will that keep the problem in our minds, but the first set of court cases being filed on the basis of evidence found in Google Street View are starting to go through the law system — not just the ones trying to sue Google (although most if not all of these were thrown out) but also others based on the fact that people were identified.
The most famous example is probably the one of a wife in America claiming for a divorce after seeing he husbands car outside a friend’s house when he said he was on a business trip; the car was identifiable by its distinctive hubcaps! Although for every incident of this type there are many other strange and/or funny Google Street View (UK) sightings!
But hopefully Google will be able to refine the process, and although I doubt it this ruling should put to bed any unrest from the general public regarding this problem. Personally I think this is a big step forward, and it is encouraging to see this ICO embracing progress and not listening to those that shout the loudest.