Google Street View now in select Canadian cities

After getting tired of looking at a couple holding hands walking down University Avenue across the street from Wilfrid Laurier University, one can easily turn to five men sitting on the patio of The Silver Spur in Uptown Waterloo.

Within seconds, similar actions can be seen taking place in downtown Halifax or Vancouver.
On Oct. 7, Google Maps launched their Street View application in 11 cities across Canada, including Kitchener-Waterloo.

“One of the reasons why we picked the cities that we did is that typically when we launch in a country we choose the largest metropolitan type of cities for the initial launch,” said Wendy Rozeluk, global communications and public affairs manager for Google Canada.

“We also try to include cities across the country so it would be representative of the many different provinces and regions.”

The application allows you to view these cities in photographs that were taken from a vehicle driving through the streets months prior.

“The pictures that you see on Street View on Google Maps are all snapshots of anything you would see walking down the street,” said Rozeluk.

Street View was initially launched in 2007 in some cities across the United States. The initiative has since grown to include cities around the world.

Currently there is no timeline set for updating the photos.

“If you think about the countries and cities across the globe, it becomes a very big project,” said Rozeluk.

With its initial release in the U.S., issues of privacy were raised as people, cars and homes were easily identified, something that raised concern for associate professor in communications studies at Laurier Martin Dowding.

“Some of the big issues that were initially brought up were that the Google Street View people were just driving through no trespassing signs; they were driving into very large compounds with gates that just happened to be open that day,” said Dowding.

Many cases of privacy were taken to court and not all have been resolved as of yet.
Privacy was taken into greater consideration with the Canadian launch.

“What Google had done is apply technology … [with] the ability to blur faces and also license plates,” said Rozeluk.

Users are also able to report problems with images that they either want removed or they feel needs greater blurring.

Dowding, however, is skeptical about the degree to which individuals’ privacy is violated.

“When you think about it, if you … or I just started walking around and taking pictures of peoples houses and walking into lanes that had no trespassing signs we’d probably be in jail, or at least we’d be in trouble,” said Dowding.

Canadian privacy commissioners have accepted the new application after seeking out and reviewing Google’s privacy policies concerning the material.

Despite their stamp of approval, Dowding noted that Street View represents a greater issue of privacy as technology continues to progress and improve.

“I think we should be much more attentive to our privacy, and people tend to not be.”

With the onset of websites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, along with Google’s new initiatives that continue to connect and inform people about one another, privacy is becoming a forsaken right.

“If society keeps going down that road, when will it stop? When will someone finally say we have enough already, we have enough information about everybody, we just don’t need it?” questions Dowding.

Although Street View provides the novelty of looking for directions or simply being able to see places around the world with the feeling that you are physically there, Dowding also doubts the usefulness of the Google application as a navigation tool.

“People seem to get to places okay [without Street View],” said Dowding.