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22 June 2007

Bad news for burglars

Google's Street View may be smart but it does raise issues of privacy

By Gregory Marler

Recently Google launched a new feature to their online maps called Street View, complete with a typo in the title (see the top of your web browser), and a video on YouTube rather than their own Google Video.

Google Street Maps lets you zoom in on Google Maps, click any road outlined in blue, and see the road at street level in any direction. For now they’ve only driven around five U.S. cities with their vehicle-mounted camera – San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami and New York – but it provides extensive coverage in those locations.

Back in 2005 it was reported how Google’s satellite photography was dangerously showing details inside military bases. With the increased detail offered by Street View it wasn’t long before newspapers revealed what you could expect to spot, including people sunbathing and evidence of a possible burglary.

Even though the photos aren’t live and may be fairly out of date, it does raise questions of privacy. About 26 minutes into John Krumm from Microsoft talking at a Google Tech Talk, he lists the reasons why you’d want people to know your home and current location.

It’s then interesting how he explains the possible ways to determine someone’s home location from GPS logs and counter measures, but all result in the data being so corrupted that most benefits of sending the data are lost.

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The new Google Street View sure is a nice feature to see an area before you visit but it would be useful if you knew when they were going to be driving around the next city. Think of the opportunity for doing creative or mad things, of claiming some free advertising, or maybe just putting off robbing a house untill the van has gone past.