How Adding Images to Google Street View Could Violate Privacy

Key Takeaways

  • Android users can use augmented reality to upload images from the Street View app.
  • Not all countries love Street View—some places have banned it, others have censored it.
  • Street View currently has 170 billion images covering 10 million miles.

praetorianphoto / Getty Images

Google now lets you take your own photos and upload them to Street View, either filling in the gaps in Google’s photographic mosaic of the world, or updating old pictures. 

Using the updated Street View app on an Android phone, you can just hold up your phone, walk down a street, and take photos. Behind the scenes, Google uses augmented reality, and the positioning data from your phone, to automatically line up all the images with the existing Street View images. 

“Now that anyone can create their own connected Street View photos, we can bring better maps to more people around the world, capturing places that aren’t on Google Maps or that have seen rapid change,” writes Stafford Marquardt, a Street View product manager. “All you need is a smartphone—no fancy equipment required.”

Wait, There Are Places Not On Google Maps?

In a world where you can climb Yosemite’s El Capitan on Street View, it seems that the only places not covered by Google’s all-encompassing photo project would be ultra-remote, uninhabited territories. But sometimes the locals just don’t want it. The English Channel island of Guernsey, an English-speaking territory off the coast of France, refuses to let Street View go live. Back in 2010 and ’11, locals vandalized Google’s Street View camera cars, and local authorities ended up blocking publication. To this day, there is no Street View in the island.

“It’s a question of culture,” Peter Harris, the former data protection commissioner of Guernsey, told the BBC at the time. “I mean Google comes from the USA where perhaps views on privacy are different from those in Western Europe.”

Last year, Apple arrived in the Bailiwick with plans to record its own Look Around footage, but that hasn’t appeared yet, either. 

SDI Productions / Getty Images

Germany has also objected to ubiquitous Street View, although in a typically pragmatic way. While most of the country is covered, many properties are blurred. This gives people the utility of Street View, while affording privacy to those who want it. It’s kind of like delisting your number from the phone book.

Business Bonus

Businesses stand to benefit from these new Street View tools. You could generate your own walk through of your property, for example, and “connect” them to the existing street view of your building’s frontage.

When people upload their own Street View imagery, it will be shown as an alternative to the official imagery. However, if it is added in a place that doesn’t yet have any official Google pictures, it will appear on the map as a dotted blue line, and can be viewed like official solid-line imagery. 

It’s possible that individuals could try to circumvent the blocks put on Street View by local authorities, but that should be easy to take care of. Crowdsourcing Android phone users, though, could also prove quite powerful, bringing street-level imagery to places that may never otherwise be visited by Street View. And that could be a big deal.

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