The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Street View

Google puts the brakes on Street View in India after police complaints


Google has halted its Street View cars in Bangalore, India, after receiving police complaints about the company's 360-degree photo-snapping in the city.

According to Bangalore's Deccan Herald newspaper, Google received a letter from the city's police commissioner asking the search giant to park the camera-topped cars and tricycles, which take photos used in Google Maps Street View and the Google Earth app.

"We can confirm that we have received a letter from the commissioner of police regarding Street View," Google said in a statement sent to the Deccan Herald. "We are currently reviewing it and have stopped our cars until we have a chance to answer any questions or concerns the police have."

Google officials were unavailable to comment to the Technology blog on Tuesday morning. But in the past, the company has said that it plans to document India's other major cities with Street View cars after the mapping of Bangalore was complete, the Deccan Herald said.

The tech titan began its Street View efforts in Bangalore, home to some Indian military sites, in late May.

Google is working on finding a balance between its users' needs and governmental security concerns, said Vinay Goel, the company's head of products in India, according to the report.

"We recognize the sensitivity associated with certain locations and are committed to working with relevant stake holders to ensure that their concerns are addressed," Goel told the paper.


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Photo: Google India Street View cars and tricycle. Credit: Google

Google considering shutting down Street View in Switzerland


Google is considering shutting down Street View in Switzerland if the supreme court there fails to throw out an April court order mandating that the tech giant give an "absolute guarantee of anonymity for people" photographed in Street View photos, according to a report.

Patrick Warnking, Google's country manager for Switzerland, told the Associated Press that the company will ask the Swiss Federal Tribunal to overturn the court decision, which also would require Google to make unrecognizable not only people, but license plates as well, before images are published in Street View.

If the Federal Tribunal decides to uphold the court mandate handed to Google by the Swiss Federal Administrative Court last month and if Google goes through on its threats, it would mark the first time that Street View has been turned off in an entire country, the Associated Press said.

Google first came under fire over Street View privacy concerns in Switzerland in 2009 and has faced similar complaints in other countries.

"We will try our very best to preserve Street View for Swiss users," Warnking told the AP. "We have already taken measures to protect the identity of individuals and vehicles in Street View. And we hope that this will be appropriately recognized in the appeals process."


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Photo: Thomas Imboden drives a Google Street View camera-equipped snowmobile in the shadow of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland, in February. Credit: Olivier Maire / Keystone/Google/Bloomberg News

Google optimizes Google Earth for Android Honeycomb tablets


Google released an update to Google Earth on Thursday, optimizing the 3-D mapping software for use on Android tablets.

The update marks the first time that 3-D buildings in Google Earth have been available on any mobile device -- until Thursday, the 3-D views were only available on the desktop version of Earth, Google spokeswoman Nadja Blagojevic said in a statement.

The tablet-optimized version of Google Earth is available for tablets running Android Honeycomb, which is Google's mobile operating system built specifically for tablets.

"When we launched Google Earth in 2005, most of us were still using flip phones," Peter Birch, a Google product manager, wrote in a blog post. "At the time, the thought of being able to cart around 197 million square miles of Earth in your pocket was still a distant dream. Last year, that dream came to fruition for Android users when we released Google Earth for Android."

But although Google Earth for Android was a good fit for Android phones, Android tablets with larger touchscreens weren't taken care of as the company would have liked, Birch wrote.

Hence Thursday's tablet-minded update.

"We've added support for fully textured 3-D buildings, so your tour through the streets of Manhattan will look more realistic than ever," Birch said. "There's also a new action bar up top, enabling easier access to search, the option to 'fly to your location' and layers such as Places, Panoramio photos, Wikipedia and 3-D buildings."

Moving from a mobile phone to a tablet was akin to the transition from a regular movie theater screen to an Imax screen, he said.

"We took advantage of the larger screen size, including features like content pop-ups appearing within Earth view, so you can see more information without switching back and forth between pages," Birch said.


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Image: A screenshot of Google Earth from a tablet running the Android Honeycomb operating system. Credit: Google

Google's Map Maker enables U.S. users to edit Google Maps worldwide

Google released Map Maker, a Web application that allows users to add and update maps worldwide, to the U.S. on Tuesday.

Previously, Map Maker has been open to 183 other countries and regions around the world, including Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cuba, Cyprus, Iraq, Kuwait, Mexico, Nicaragua, Syria, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yemen. Canada hasn't been added to Map Maker yet.

"Today we're opening the map of the United States in Google Map Maker for you to add your expert local knowledge directly," Lalitesh Katragadda, Google's Map Maker tech lead, and Manik Gupta, a product manager, said in blog post. "You know your neighborhood or hometown best, and with Google Map Maker you can ensure the places you care about are richly represented on the map. For example, you can fix the name of your local pizza parlor, or add a description of your favorite book store."

Users can add bike lanes, walking paths, shortcuts, local businesses, outlines of buildings or parking lots and other details using Map Maker.

Katragadda and Gupta offered a Map-Maker-built map of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay as an example of users adding in details that otherwise would likely be absent from Google Maps.

"To confirm Map Maker user contributions are accurate, each edit will be reviewed," the blog post said. "After approval, the edits will appear in Google Maps within minutes -- dramatically speeding up the time it takes for online maps to reflect the often-changing physical world."

Those who have Google Earth downloaded can watch mapping in real time by others around the world using Map Maker.

Google also updated Map Maker on Tuesday, adding its Street View images into Map Maker and new advanced search options such as displaying all railroad tracks.


Microsoft Streetside maps to hit Europe in challenge to Google Street View

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Microsoft bringing Streetside maps to Europe in challenge to Google Street View


Microsoft is taking Streetside, it's rival to Google's Street View, to the streets of Europe.

According to the BBC, cars fitted with 360-degree panoramic cameras have hit boulevards, roads and avenues in London, snapping scenes to be used in Microsoft's Bing Maps, which competes with Google Maps.

And Microsoft is planning to map out images of other roadways in other English cities and European countries next month, the BBC said.

No date was offered as to when Streetside scenes would go live for Europe on Bing Maps, and Microsoft officials were not available for comment on Wednesday morning.

Streetside is already available in most major U.S. cities and is an effort Microsoft is continuing to expand in America as well.

Google's Street View efforts have run into a bit of trouble due to the wrongful collection of private data from unsecured W-Fi networks while its photo-taking cars and bikes cruised around the U.S. and Europe over the last few years.

Last week a Swiss court ruled that Google must guarantee that faces and license plates are unrecognizable before publishing street scenes from Switzerland in its Street View maps. Google said it was considering its appeal options for the court order.

Last month Google was fined 100,000 euros by France for improperly gathering and storing data collected by its Street View cars and bicycles.

Google has apologized for wrongfully collecting Wi-Fi data with its Street View vehicles multiple times over the last few months and promised to delete the data it has collected.

It may then come as not much of a surprise that Microsoft is saying it won't make the same errors when collecting Wi-Fi data on its Streetside routes, which will be less ambitious than Google's Street View routes, for now.

"We're not setting out to record every street. We believe it is most valuable in urban centres where people want to find services," Dave Coplin, Microsoft Corp.'s director of search, told the BBC.

Microsoft is collecting some Wi-Fi data, which will be used to pair Streetside with "location-based services," Coplin told the BBC.

Among the data being collected while snapping photos will be the "unique number that identifies the location of a hot spot," along with the hot spot's signal strength and what type of Wi-Fi signal is being used, the BBC said.

But, while Microsoft has already taken some Streetside photos, it has so far collected no Wi-Fi data, the report said.

"We took the decision to postpone Wi-Fi data collection," Coplin told the BBC. "We'd like to do it the right way."


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Image: A screenshot of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles as depicted on Microsoft's Streetside view on Bing Maps. Credit: Microsoft Corp.

Google Street View must obscure faces and license plates in Switzerland, court says [Updated]


Google has received a court order that says it must guarantee that faces and license plates are unrecognizable when it publishes scenes in Switzerland in its Street View maps.

The ruling handed down by the Swiss Federal Administrative Court on Monday will affect all future  ground-level pictures taken by Google for its Street View service, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

"Every person has a right of privacy with respect to his or her own image," the court said in an email statement to Bloomberg. "No one may be photographed without his or her [prior or subsequent] consent."

Google's lawyers argued that privacy protection was already in place because of technology that automatically blurs faces and cars' license plates in the Street View images, though it was found that the blurring was not foolproof.

The order can be appealed through Switzerland's supreme court, Bloomberg said.

Officials at the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant were unavailable for comment Monday morning.

[Updated 1:39 p.m.: Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said in an e-mailed statement that the tech giant has rexeived the Swiss court's verdict and "currently assessing its implications."

"We are very disappointed because Street View has proved to be very useful to millions of people as well as businesses and tourist organisations," Fleischer said. "More than one in four of the Swiss population has used it since the service launched in Switzerland. We'll now take some time to consider what this means for Street View in Switzerland and our appeal options."]


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Photo: Thomas Imboden drives a Google Street View camera-equipped snowmobile in the shadow of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland, in February. Credit: Olivier Maire / Keystone/Google/Bloomberg News

Google fined 100,000 euros by France for Street View's private data collection [Updated]

Google Street View car

Google has received its first penalty for improperly gathering and storing data collected by its Street View cars and bicycles, and more sanctions could be on the way.

A 100,000-euro fine, equivalent to about $141,300, was handed down to Google by the French government's technology and privacy group CNIL on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

The fine was levied against Google for acquiring personal data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks from 2007 to 2010.

The private data -- which included passwords, personal e-mails, online banking information and Web browsing histories -- was siphoned by Google's Street View cars and bicycles, which photograph 360-degree images of streets for Google's online maps.

So far, the CNIL is the only agency to fine Google over the improper data collection, but more than 30 nations have criticized the search giant for it, and at least two other countries in Europe could also issue fines, the Associated Press said.

Google has admitted to the wrongful data collection in the past and on Monday e-mailed the Technology blog a statement apologizing for the fiasco.

"As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted WiFi networks," said Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for Google. "As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all WiFi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities. Deleting the data has always been our priority, and we're happy the CNIL has given permission for us to do so."

Google officials declined to comment further.

The AP said that the CNIL has given Google a window of two months to appeal the fine, though the company hasn't yet decided if it will or not.

CNIL officials said Google wasn't always forthcoming during its investigation into the Street View data collection, which began in 2009.

"They were not always willing to cooperate with us, they didn't give us all the information we asked for, like the source code of all devices in the Google cars," Yann Padova, CNIL's executive director, told the AP. "They were not always very transparent."

Between 2007 and 2010, Google collected more than 600 gigabytes of data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks before realizing there was a problem, according to the AP.

[Updated at 9:55 a.m. with a statement from Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for Google.]


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Photo: A Google employee drives a Street View car around Palo Alto. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

Google Street View goes off road with tricycle to capture more images

Google Street View has peddled its images around the globe, in every major metropolitan area of the U.S. and in 27 countries as a popular addition to its online mapping service.

Now it's -- literally -- pedaling to capture more images.

Google on Monday unveiled the latest photos of places that used to be out of its sights: hiking trails, university campuses, historical landmarks, national parks, etc.

Google used to stick to places where its vehicles with mounted cameras could roam. But now it's using an off-road vehicle that it invented to go where no Street View camera has gone before. The 250-pound, 9-foot-long tricycle has a camera mounted on the back that takes pictures from 7 feet in the air.

Google senior mechanical engineer Daniel Ratner dreamed up the trike that can give virtual tours of places where cars can't go, such as the Santa Monica Pier. Athletes are hired to pilot the heavy tricycle, which has been around since 2009.

So far lots of places have been eager to welcome the unusual contraption to boost their online visibility. But can the backlash be far behind?

Since launching in 2007, Street View has given Google its share of public relations headaches, with privacy watchdogs, lawmakers and regulators hounding the Internet giant in this country and abroad. The biggest headache was its admission that its Street View vehicles had inadvertently collected private data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks while cruising neighborhoods.

Google is still facing heavy scrutiny from governments around the world concerned that it overreaches -- even as Israel weighs allowing the service in the country despite concerns of terrorism.

So, as it gives Google unprecedented views beyond public streets into private property, will the trike bring controversy over the Street View feature back into focus?

Consumer Watchdog spokesman John Simpson said: “Google continues to push the envelope as far as it can and increasingly intrudes in our lives without asking permission. How long will it be before the Internet giant deploys teams with handheld cameras to photograph places where the trikes can’t go?”

Those owners who want their private property featured on Street View can check out the feature on this page.


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Google reaches deal with Connecticut in Wi-Fi probe


Connecticut Atty. Gen. George Jepsen said Friday his office has entered into settlement negotiations with Google over private data its Street View cars collected from unsecured networks there.

As part of the deal, Google acknowledged that its Street View cars gathered information including partial or complete e-mails and addresses of requested Web pages, Jepsen said.

The agreement will allow the Internet search giant and a 40-state coalition led by Connecticut to engage in talks "without the need for a protracted and costly fight in the courts," he said.

Jepsen said he is prepared to file a lawsuit if settlement talks break down.

Connecticut had issued a civil investigative demand, which is similar to a subpoena, to obtain the data Google collected. Google rejected the demand from Connecticut's then-Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal.

The Federal Communications Commission said in November it was probing whether Google broke federal law in collecting consumer data via Wi-Fi networks. The Federal Trade Commission closed its investigation of Google's data collection in October.

For years, Google's fleet of Street View cars have compiled images of streets that are displayed in its online mapping service. At the same time, the vehicles scanned wireless networks to better pinpoint the location of users on mobile phones. Google said the vehicles inadvertently collected personal information.

In a statement Friday, Google said it was "profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from encrypted networks."

Consumer Watchdog spokesman John Simpson objected to the settlement talks. 

"The details of the biggest privacy breach in history shouldn't be settled in secret," he said.


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Cartoon of outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt's 'creepy' lines hits D.C. streets

Consumer Watchdog, the consumer protection group that has been scratching on Google's door since it began tracking the company a couple of years ago, is now going after soon-to-be-ex-CEO Eric Schmidt with an animated video capturing some of the executive's "creepy" quotes about privacy. 

(One of them, transcribed at the end of the video is: "There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.")

Over the years, Schmidt -- who announced last week that he would step down in April to be replaced by co-founder Larry Page -- has made a number of quips that observers have seen as betraying a lack of concern for user privacy. Among the more famous was when he said, "If you have something you don't want anybody to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."  Schmidt-van

Schmidt later suggested that if people didn't like their homes being photographed by Google's Street View mapping cars, they should "just move."

AllThingsD has a good summary of Schmidt's privacy gaffes.

In releasing its "Mr. Schmidt goes to Washington" video, Consumer Watchdog is asking Congress to force Schmidt to testify on Google's so-called "Wi-Spy" scandal, where the company's mapping cars recorded huge amounts of private data from homes and businesses, including user e-mails and passwords.

The Santa Monica-based watchdog has also hired a van to drive around the streets of D.C. playing the movie on a large screen on its side.  


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Photo credit: Consumer Watchdog


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