Should Google blur private locations?
By Jim Scott
Google Maps has the ability for anyone to look at almost anywhere in the world. Most places have been mapped and published onto Google’s map and Google earth site. Users can zoom fairly closely, to see their neighbourhood or even some undesirable locations which are not always "censored". But as France’s justice minister asks Google to blur prisons after an inmate escaped, should Google blur private locations?
Earlier this year French prisoner Redoine Faid successfully escaped the jail complex of a prison near Paris when a helicopter landed in its open courtyard. A satellite's view of the jail on Google Maps revealed the courtyard did not have ant-helicopter netting. The map, which is available on the South China Morning Post, clearly shows the layout of the prison including its "open areas" which has sparked debate over whether prisons should be included on Google Maps.
Google has come under fire previously for its open-use of aerial images. It’s currently rated as the world’s number one navigation app with nearly 70 percent of smartphone users, agree they have used Google Map’s at least once. But Belgium have plans to sue Google for refusing to blur sensitive military sites and nuclear power plants.
According to the country’s Department of Defence, Google did not remove sensitive images when asked. The Belgian government argue "delicate issues surrounding privacy" means their sensitive sites are "exposed" for anyone to see.
The Brussels Times reports blurring images can be done, using the example that house numbers are always blurred along with number plates on vehicles.
Controversy surrounding Google’s right to publish private images on its maps has continued. The Express reports, "unfortunate man spotted in very embarrassing scene" as a man in London is pictured vomiting in the street. Although the subject is in fact blurred, the friend can clearly be seen in the next frame, making identification of both involved discreetly easy.
But although the ability of Google Maps to "map" everything its satellite sees. Some have called the app educational. Ed Surge says Google Maps "offers an aspirational metaphor for what the future of educational tools could look like". It suggests Google Maps makes for an accurate and real-time tool in geography.
But Google Maps does sometimes enforce a ban on viewers seeing a particular area. The Express lists the "places people are banned from seeing" in an article. Most famously it includes controversial Area 51, allegedly a top-secret US air base, blurred from Google Maps. And until recently, actual aerial footage of North Korea was deleted from the site, instead both "aerial and satellite" views of the country were replaced with green mountainous patches.
But Google could argue the majority of its maps have already been published and downloaded by criminals, meaning the images would never truly be deleted. If this was the case, it could set the precedent for up and coming map services to continue uploading images of everything, everywhere.