Address concerns

Address concerns

Google Earth’s Street View project in Bangalore raises troubling questions over its implications for individual privacy and security of sensitive installations in the City. The project will enable Google Maps and Google Earth to provide panoramic, 360 degree views along urban and rural streets worldwide from various positions. Street View operates in around 25 countries. Bangalore was picked as its starting point for collecting street views in India. High-resolution cameras mounted on vehicles have been filming the City’s streets since late May.  The police say that Google Earth did not seek the necessary security-related permission from the government to do so. While Google has acted irresponsibly by not taking permission for activity that has security implications and should be taken to task for its brazen breach of Indian laws and security concerns, the Bangalore police’s shockingly slow response is worrying. Google Earth’s cameras were not hidden or camouflaged. They were atop vehicles and openly roaming the streets in broad daylight and it took the police an inordinately long time to wake up.

Google claims that its Street View maps will help tourists and city planning authorities. However, these maps provide information that terrorists could misuse to attack installations and individuals. There are privacy concerns too. Last year, it inadvertently collected unencrypted data, passwords and other personal information from unprotected Wi-Fi networks in Britain. In Japan, its cameras picked up images of the interiors of homes.

 On orders from the Bangalore police Google has taken its cars and cameras off the roads. It has promised to address concerns. It should be given the go-ahead only if it does so. In some countries, it has simply dug in its heels to get its way. In Switzerland, for instance, it is appealing against a court ruling ordering it to ensure that images of all people and cars be rendered unrecognisable. Indian authorities must therefore be prepared for some hard arguing from Google. Google maintains that its Street View maps are immensely popular. Indeed they are. But there are concerns that should be looked into. India’s anxieties over possible misuse of Google Earth’s Street View services are understandable. Investigations in the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai revealed that the terrorists had used Google’s satellite imagery in planning their operations. There is the issue of revenue too. Google makes millions out of the information it provides. It must share a part of its revenues from street view with the government.

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