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Google’s Street View gives Canadian’s a virtual reality check

Thursday, 11 March 2010 — by

Town authorities in the Ontario city of Windsor, Canada recently successfully petitioned Google to re-shoot parts of their city because they didn’t like what people were seeing. Do the Windsor authorities have a point, or are they in for a virtual reality check? Either way, if you’re in PR, the whole remit of your profession just widened by the width, depth and breadth of the world wide web…

So what’s so bad that the townsfolk of Windsor want Google to re-shoot their city streets?

“Within days of adding the 3-D photographic perspective to local streets for internet users around the globe wanting to browse what 130 Canadian cities and towns have to offer, Google Canada agreed to remove a scene of crime tape and bloodied bandages outside west-end strip club Leopard’s Lounge and Broil.”

“That’s not Windsor.” Said councilor Ron Jones. It most certainly was for 24-year-old Nicholas Ingram, who was fatally stabbed outside Leopard’s Lounge and Broil strip club. But that’s not all:

“In addition to that murder scene, Google’s camera cars roamed Windsor’s streets in the midst of last summer’s bitter CUPE labour dispute, capturing countless crystal-clear images of trash in parks, gardens filled with dead flowers and sports fields drowning under overgrown weeds and litter.”

Why being “streets ahead” isn’t always a good thing

Google’s gesture to re-shoot these parts of the city is certainly laudable — if you happen to live in and rely on commercial trade and whatever tourism industry the city of Windsor has to offer. However, are they — or anyone else for that matter — in a position to petition a commercial entity to curate their image for them? After all, what Google Street View offers is, essentially, a public service. Google aren’t beholden to anyone, surely? Well actually, they are.

Back in June last year, Google’s Street View and their roving band of camera-equiped vans kicked up a ripe old privacy stink:

“European privacy watchdogs have demanded that Google delete the original images behind its Street View service. The company has said it will comply with the demand in the “long term”.”

Personal privacy is one thing (and a very serious one at that), but municipal public image is a different issue entirely. So what’s the way forward?

New York. Here’s a city that is so synonymous with big-budget movies and TV shows their city authorities have an office just for handling filming requests for movies and TV. This is about city management, public safety, tourism, public relations and a damn good source of revenue. Now, I can’t see Windsor competing with the city that never sleeps, however, this does offer something of a useful starting point.

A different angle on Google Street View

In this case, neither Google nor the city of Windsor got anything wrong. Google are at the forefront of a new technology that is proving just how disruptive it can be, in a very real way. However, for the city authorities of Windsor, this is an unmanaged provision of service — what if Google arrived to find a major through road was blocked due to scheduled road works? Here we see how Google ought to liaise with the relevant city authorities, to help ensure what they’re photographing is both accurate and useful.

Additionally, I think Google should provide city authorities with the photographs for review before going live with them, to at least give them the opportunity to review them and weed out anything they feel is unwelcome, incorrect, illegal et cetera.

I can already hear you thinking: “But the authorities could, potentially, give a false impression of their city by preparing in advance.” Of course they could. But this is a very different world we now live in, one that’s hooked on communication and news — we’d see the “before and after” videos on YouTube within hours!

Personally, this isn’t a major issue. Sure, for the time being, this does give city authorities something else to think about and most likely more work for the press and public relations people. However, what we’re seeing is the fleeting ripples of an emerging technology as it falls into the sea of society, to be absorbed and assimilated. And that’s something Google are very familiar with and extremely good at.

Don’t believe me? Tell me this: when someone asks you something you can’t answer, how many times do you just say: “Why don’t you just Google it?”

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Comment and be known

Dave → Saturday, 27 March 2010 @ 8:58 BDT

You’e right, I often say “I don’t know, but why don’t you ask Google?” or something like this. I like it as a serch engine, but I think there’s no need for seomething like Streetview. It only makes problems as there are people who don’t want to be seen online, and it’s their right to say that. And now we see the other side, that cities want to be shown there, but they don’t like the pictures.

David → Sunday, 28 March 2010 @ 21:31 BDT

I was looking at street view for parts of Edinburgh today and was just thinking that the half-built buildings and the skips I saw are not a permanent feature and it would be good if Google was invited to re-shoot at some point.

Enrico → Tuesday, 13 April 2010 @ 11:27 BDT

Here in Germany there was many discussions about Google Streetview. I don’t think it’s very evil – but our politics.

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