Google Seeks Correction

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Says supposed Street View'
vehicle is not one of theirs

On Saturday, I wrote about the arrival in St. Johns of what seemed very much like a Google Street View vehicle, a specially-equipped auto that captures street scenes as an adjunct to its Google Maps service.

My source for the story actually spoke with the driver, who said he was working for Google Earth.

However, yesterday I received a request for correction from Tamara Micner, a communications person with Googles Toronto office.

I wanted to ask about a possible correction to your recent article about Google Street View, she wrote. The article mentions a van driving around St. John's without any Google identification: all Google Street View cars have a Google logo on the side and are cars, not vans, so this vehicle could not have been for Google Street View. Would it be possible to run a correction in the Telegram and to update the online story?

For my information, Micner attached a link to photos of the actual Google Street View vehicles. They are totally different from the van shown above.

I replied to Micner, with more detail about what my source had said, and pointing out that the van was clearly shooting something. I asked for her take on this, and if fake Google vehicles have been spotted anywhere else.

In her reply, Micner said, That is an odd situation, so why dont you hold off on correcting anything while I check again with the Street View team?

So I waited and, Thursday morning, received a reply from Micner.

I've confirmed that that van is not a Google Street View vehicle. Just to be clear, the Street View vehicles are all cars, not vans the cars in Canada have the same cameras and logo and are just a different type of sedan, she wrote.

But the plot thickens.

A press release from Google announcing Street View in Canada, said the service would be launched in 11 major cities. St. John's was not on the list, Saint John was. Based on the vehicle seen here, it seemed apparent that Google had mistaken Saint John for St. Johns (it wouldnt be the first time that sort of thing has happened). However, Mincer said the release is correct.

the list of metropolitan areas we've included on that press site is the minimum that we'll cover in Canada. So it's possible but not certain that St. John's could be included: we always start with the largest cities in a given country, the ones which will be most helpful to users, and then we expand from there on an ongoing basis (for instance, we recently added several cities to Street View in France), Micner wrote.

It raises the question was the van seen in St. Johns working on a sub-contract, capturing video that might eventually be used by Google? This is a distinct possibility, given the encounter photographer Karen Chappell had with the same mystery van, subsequent to my item on Monday. The photos above were taken by Chappell.

Heres how Chappell describes the encounter in her excellent Bitstop photo blog.

The Google street view vehicle is in town and today I saw it. I was headed east on Newfoundland Drive (near Logy Bay Road) when I saw it coming towards me. I turned around and went back to find him. Luckily I had my camera with me! He was on Rigolet Crescent so I stopped and jumped out to get a picture. He turned around near me to do the loop and he had his window down so I asked if he was doing the surveying for Google Earth. He said no, a private company. I asked if Google Earth had contracted out the private company and he said sort of. Then he said that Google Earth wasn't allowed to put up pics in Canada yet. I asked if I could take a few pics, he said yes and let me take one of him as well. I told him he was the talk of the town, especially among photographers, and that it had been written about in blogs and was in the newspaper. He laughed and seemed surprised.

You will note, the driver said he was sort of contracted by a private company. Which does indeed raise questions about who, why and what for.

However, there is also the possibility that the driver is working completely on a speculative basis, capturing the images in hopes of selling them to Google at a later date. If that is the case, and he has gone to this much trouble without a contract, I would question his business sense.

In the meantime, this item will correct the previous one (and I will link from there to here). However, if it turns out that the vehicle WAS on a sub-contract, you can bet Ill report on that too.

Meanwhile, in my email exchange with Google, I referenced concerns expressed by Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, that Google Street View could break privacy laws by showing peoples faces. I asked how this would affect Googles plans for Street View in Canada.

we take privacy very seriously, and all images in our Street View product will abide by the local laws and cultural norms of the country (and provinces) they are taken in, Micner wrote. We have worked with Canada's privacy commissioners and had great discussions, and we'll continue to work with them. We're excited at the prospect of bringing Street View to Canada and offering the benefits of street-level imagery of Canada to our Maps users worldwide!

I will follow this story and keep you updated, as it unfolds.

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  • Rebecca
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    I find this whole situation kind of creepy... or am I over-reacting??