Google in St. John's

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Gathering images for Google Street View

UPDATE and CORRECTION: Google has contacted me and asked for a correction; they say the van operating in St. Johns is not working for them. Get the full story here.

Theres a van prowling the streets of St. Johns that could put your house and possibly you on the Internet.

The van looks ordinary enough. It is working, however, for google, the biggest Internet company on the planet, gathering images for the Street View feature of google earth.

There is no google identifier on the van.

But youve got to hand it to Wade Chafe he picked the vehicle out right away.

I saw the van pulling out of Winter Avenue, onto Kings Bridge Road, Chafe said. I saw that he had some sort of contraption it looked like a camera on the hood, as well as two on a crossbar. Right away, I thought I had seen it, that it sure as hell looks like a google van.

Chafe said it was marked Survey Vehicle Makes Frequent Stops in white letters in the back window, and its emergency flashers were on. But there was no google identification.

So I stopped, let him out and he went on ahead of me, and when we got further up Kings Bridge Road, almost to the hotel where the traffic forks into two lanes at the red light, I pulled up beside him, because I was really curious. I had the window rolled down so I said to him, Would you mind telling me who youre doing this for? He looked at me and said google earth. I said, Yeah, I thought so and just went on then I had seen pictures before of google vans and knew right away, thats what it was.

Google Street View goes one better than google earth, which enables web browsers to zoom in on any location, anywhere on earth sometimes in surprisingly high resolution. However, the images are always aerial shots. Google Street View gets down at eye level, and offers full 360-degree views of streetscapes.

The service can be useful such as for scouting a neighbourhood in a new city before booking a hotel but has also sparked controversy. There have been complaints that Street View violates personal privacy, even though all images are captured in public places.

Heres an excerpt from a story in the National Post:

The office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has been in discussions with Google over the rollout of the service.

Elizabeth Denham, assistant privacy commissioner of Canada with primary responsibility for the federal private sector privacy law, said the commission has expressed some concerns.

Canadians need to know that this is coming and understand the implications of this type of street-view imagery, said Denham. We have concerns about these types of applications under Canadian law. Just because people are in public places, that doesnt mean privacy laws dont apply.

Denham said Google has agreed to blur the faces of anyone caught in a picture. The company has also agreed to blur the licence plates of vehicles. She said doing this will help to protect people, especially people who may be in a sensitive location, such as womens shelter or an abortion clinic.

The company has also offered to remove images people find offensive.

You can read the full article here.

The Street View service is still in the development stage, with a demo from select cities that you can view here. There is no word on when Google Street View will go live in Canada.

You can find another take on this and some fabulous candid photos over at Signalblog.ca.

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  • Shawn
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Hi Geoff, That's pretty cool, I was using it with google maps in Florida to help me navigate around and see some landmarks, in this way it was a pretty helpful tool, it showed where turns were and such. Google Earth is interesting on it's own, I can see my house but the image seems to be a few years old. Do they update those shots much?