2nd Issue of 2008 No.147

Abuse of Google’s “Street View” Service

“Buraku List with Photographs” Could be Easily Made by Combining Map Information and Images

A symposium on problems related to the Street View (SV) service developed by Google, a leading Internet search engine provider, was held On October 27 in Osaka. The SV service, which is freely available on the Internet, enables people to access street-level photographs of locations on an on-screen map. The service was launched in the US in May 2007 and in Japan in August 2008. Immediately after the Japan launch, links to street-level views of certain Buraku communities were uploaded onto Channel 2 and other bulletin boards. Many images show the faces of people in the communities, the entrances and yards of private houses, and clothes hung for drying. The images could allow viewers to infer family structures and see inside homes, which obviously infringes on people’s privacy. There are also fears that the service could be abused to facilitate crimes such as burglary.

Mr. Nakamura, an Ibaraki City Councilor, was one of the panelists at the symposium. According to Mr. Nakamura, the risk that the SV service could result in privacy infringements, human rights abuses and facilitation of crime was pointed out prior to the launch of the service in Japan. Since the launch of the service, bulletin boards such as Channel 2 have been flooded with malicious postings that constitute abuse of the service. Buraku discrimination is deeply connected to land (since Buraku areas can be geographically located). Combining map information with SV images could lead to the easy production of Buraku lists with pictures. Google apparently failed to hold any discussions regarding the possible SV abuses prior to the launch of service.

The SV service delivers photographic images throughout the world of individual houses, people walking on the street, cars on the road, stores, and children on their way back home from school without the permission of the pictured individuals. Legal action has already been taken in the US for alleged privacy infringements, while in Canada the service was halted immediately after launch due to possible conflicts with the Privacy Protection Law. Full-scale SV services have not been launched in any European country without prior examination or discussion of related privacy, racial and human rights issues. Google in Japan takes the position that all photography has been shot from public roads, thereby eliminating privacy issues, and states they are prepared to delete any image found to be problematic. This means the company will not take action on any problematic image unless somebody requests a deletion.

BLL Osaka raised this issue during one of its regular negotiations with the Osaka Prefectural Government. The Osaka Prefectural Government is aware that discriminatory incidents involving abuse of the SV service constitute serious human rights infringements, and intends to examine the issue in more depth in cooperation with municipal governments in Osaka to identify appropriate measures to be taken.

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