Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Google’s Street View raises privacy concerns


Read more articles by

In May of 2007, the search-engine behemoth Google launched a new Google Maps service called Street View. As the name suggests, Street View offers users the option of looking at photographs of streetscapes taken at ground level when searching for directions on Google Maps. Although still in its initial stages, Street View has already accumulated images from 27 cities across the USA, and is slated to debut images from Canadian cities some time this year.

Needless to say, Street View has caused some concerns over privacy. Images of people caught in less-than-honourable activities (such as a break-in, an arrest, speeding cars, exiting an adult book store and a strip club, etc.) have been showcased throughout the internet, sparking discussion about the right to privacy in public spaces.

The most recent case involves a Pittsburgh couple whose house was photographed and added to the myriad images that make up the Pittsburgh area Street View. Aaron and Christine Boring are now suing Google for “invasion of privacy,” claiming that the company used a clearly marked private road to drive up to their home and take photographs of their property. The Borings also claim that they have endured “mental suffering” and that the value of their property has suffered since their home was featured on Google Maps.

As we patiently wait for our own version of Street View, it is worth noting that Canada, like many European cities and unlike the USA, has strict laws concerning an individual’s right to privacy. Although pictures are not the focus of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act, these rules stipulate that consent is required before a private company can distribute personal information. In response to a letter from the Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and growing public apprehension about the service, Google announced in September 2007 that identifiable faces and licence plates appearing in any Street View of a Canadian city will be blurred.

These cases raise compelling questions about our right to privacy in public spaces. Do you believe that Street View compromises people’s privacy? Or do the benefits of the service outweigh the possible costs?

A version of this post was originally published on Spacing Toronto by Patricia Simoes. Photo by Josh Bancroft.



  1. I think people worry too much for not much.

    What people are looking for in Street View are landmarks so that they get a better idea of the places.

    Now think about this:
    – When you go to the mall, you’re picture is taken from surveillance cameras. The mall is just an example, there are cameras everywhere now.
    – When tourists take pictures in the street, they may capture you as well and you may not notice (or take care), then they put the pictures on the internet to share with their friends… and you’re on the internet without knowing it.
    – It’s now even easier to take pictures of you in public without your consent with cellphone cameras, as it’s very discreet.

    So if you are so worried about pictures being taken in public places without your consent, don’t leave your home.

    There’s no privacy in public places, period.

  2. As I understand it Québec has even more stringent rules about photographing people on the street. A friend of mine was in a movie recently without her consent and she is sueing and her (rather famous) lawyer thinks she has an excellent chance of winning. I don’t think Street View will hold up at all here in Montréal.

  3. If Google blurs identifiable faces they would certainly be in the clear. That wouldn’t be hard to do considering that 4/5 of the people you see in Street View aren’t recognizable anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *