Google Maps: An Invasion of Privacy?

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Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

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Since everything happening in public on these city streets was fair game, it didn't take long for web users to find peculiar and embarrassing images that raised questions about the ethics of the project. Stephen Chau, product manager for Google Maps, says this is less an attempt to infringe on people's privacy than the company's attempt to advance its core mission:" At Google, we take privacy very seriously," Chau says. "Street View only features imagery taken on public property and is not real time. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street."

Still, Google has publicly noted that every Street View window contains a link to take users to a help page, where they can report "objectionable" images. Asked about how many images had been removed thus far due to reports from users, Chau could not offer an exact number but said it had been negligible. He noted that the company has received mostly positive feedback, suggesting visitors are using the product as it was intended. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful... a significant amount of information can be found in mapping the world, by gaining a better understanding of the world in general," he says.

To prove his point, Chau, who moved to San Francisco recently, pointed to the way he has personally used the service to learn more about his new city, virtually navigating through his neighborhood and even logging on before going to bed to zoom in on Google's images of the parking signs lining his street, to make sure he won't get a parking ticket in the morning.

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