A strange fleet of black cars has been seen wandering around the UK.
I spotted one of these mysterious cars, with its blacked out windows and a weird periscope type mast sticking out of its roof, last week. And it seems I’m not alone, as sightings keep pouring in from cities up and down the land.
It turns out Google ‘Street View’ is coming to the UK and we all soon be able to view panoramic photography of our streets.
But the online privacy lobby are up in arms that Google has been covertly photographing people and their houses without asking.
So what is Street View and does it breach UK privacy laws? Already live in the US, Street View, is a new feature on Google Maps which allows you to zoom in on a location then click on a camera icon over streets and junctions and get a real life 360 photographic view of the locations – and the cars, people and dogs passing at the time.
Some have used the opportunity to become famous, like one young lady in Chicago, who flashed her chest as the Google street car passed. (It is unclear if she knowingly singled out the Google camera car, or if that was her standard greeting to passing traffic).
You can go to www.streetviewfun.com for more candid photos of Americans who were in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
When the Street View feature will appear on UK Google Maps not known, but many are already complaining that they do not want their faces or number plates revealed. My contact inside Google UK tells me it is nowhere near ready to properly deploy camera cars on UK roads. So there’s no point in acting silly when you see one pass in the hope of internet fame.
More officially, Google is insisting that its new privatisation software, which automatically blurs faces and number plates, is good enough to ensure individual privacy.
But people can be recognised from other physical features and clothing. So if you’re snapped in Brighton with your secretary when you’re supposed to be at a sales conference in Manchester, you could have problem.
Miscreants might be interested to know that Google will remove any photo on request – assuming you get to it first.
As one impressively well informed privacy pundit pointed out, “the laws are different in the UK to the US”.
Gee, no kidding! In the UK we can take snaps, even of strangers, but if we’re taking them for commercial use, where individuals are identifiable, it becomes illegal.
One pragmatist suggested that Google could warn passers-by with a loudspeaker telling them to say ‘cheese’ before they pass.
Chris is head of digital at WAA. This and other articles can be found at waa.co.uk. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org