Google street view may be illegal: Canada

Canada's privacy commissioner has been googling Google, and she's raising concerns over the search engine's new Street View web photo application.

Privacy commissioner concerned about new application

Canada's privacy commissioner has beengoogling Google, and she's raising concerns over the search engine's new Street View web photo application.

A Google Street View shows the Embarcadero and Mission streets intersection in San Francisco. ((Google))

Jennifer Stoddart says many of the street-level images Google is making available on the internet could break Canada's privacy laws.

Street View isn't yet available in Canada but has been expanding in the United States since being launched in May.

Stoddart has written to Google, and Calgary-based Immersive Media— which helped develop the imagery technology for Street View— asking both companies to respond to her concerns.

"I am concerned that, if the Street View application were deployed in Canada, it might not comply with our federal privacy legislation," Stoddart says in a letter to David Drummond, Google's senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer.

"In particular, it does not appear to meet the basic requirements of knowledge, consent, and limited collection and use as set out in the legislation."

Removing images at request not enough

A number of websites carry satellite images or low-resolution photographs and video.

Stoddart doesn't have a problem with those. However, she warned that high-resolution pictures such as those available on Street View could contravene the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

"Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA," Stoddart writes.

Of particular concern to Stoddart is that the images on Street View appear to have been collected largely without the consent of the people in them. Street View does allow viewers to request their images be removed. However, by then, Stoddart says, it's too late.

"This is only a partial solution… given that individuals may not be aware that images relating to them are on Street View," she said.

"By the time individuals become aware that images relating to them are contained in Street View, their privacy rights may already have been affected."

In a letter to Immersive Media's CEO Myles McGovern, the commissioner said she is aware the company already has images of Canada in its database.

The firm's website specifically refers to pictures from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City being among the more than 60,000 kilometres of imagery captured in North America.

Stoddart's office has not given Google or Immersive Media a specific deadline for responding to her concerns.