New privacy safeguards for Google Street View


Google is taking additional steps to improve the privacy of Street View, after talks with European data protection authorities.

The main one is to ensure that it doesn't keep unblurred copies of panoramas longer than it needs to. These are the original images that Google first takes with its cameras before they are edited with blurring technology, which blocks faces and number plates.

The move came about following consultation with the Article 29 Working Party.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said in Google's European public policy blog that it needed to keep the original copies to work on ways of improving the image detection technology.

Fleischer said a number of "false positives" still came up in Street View, where an image is labelled as having a face or number plate even though it doesn't.

"[It] affects the quality of Google Maps and so in turn in turn affects our users," he said.

"For example, it'd be pretty annoying if you couldn't find the phone number of that little deli across town where you think you might have left your purse, because our software mistook the phone number for a license plate," he added.

Google has told the Article 29 Working Party that, in the long term, it would only keep the blurred copies, and that its engineers would work to determine "the shortest retention period that also allows for legitimate use under EU laws" for the original pictures.

Another request was to continue providing advance notice to the public about the Google camera cars before they started driving in new countries.

Google said that although it could be tricky pinpointing where cars were as well as dealing with changes in lighting and weather conditions, it was committed to working within the Article 29 guidelines.

"It's important for companies operating services across Europe to be able to follow harmonised data protection guidance," said Fleischer.

Back in April, the ICO ruled that Google Street View didn't break British privacy laws, after a storm over the legality of some of the images taken.

The Google Trike is also making its debut this summer.