The hot accessory for Vancouver car commuters: 360° cameras from Google
Yesterday our little opinion piece about a Vancouver Urbanarium stirred up some talk about Google cruising local streets (sounds sinister, doesn't it?) with a camera mounted above a vehicle that records full 360 degree views.
I was slightly aware of the Google Street View project and had watched some test clips from the Bay Area and Seattle last year. It was an exciting development to learn that the Google Truck/Car/Horse & Buggy was rolling down our streets, but it did point to a debate that has already raged in other parts about loss of privacy.
In Canada as far back as 2007 letters were flying out of Ottawa's Privacy Commissioner's office to Google and their Canadian technology partner Immersive Media cautioning them:
"I am writing to express concerns regarding developments in 3D online mapping technology, and in particular, the Google Street View application," begins the letter signed by Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart which effectively states that high resolution cameras rolling down our streets may contravene Federal and Provincial privacy acts.
Google responded to Stoddart with a promise to take steps to blur the identities of individuals captured by their cameras. Stoddart clearly has the concerns of internet privacy and "cyber crime" on the forefront of her agenda. Here she is in a video chat making a short statement on the threats of internet-related crime.
It must have satisfied our governments because Google is now rolling down the streets of Vancouver in time for the 2010 Games.
Not sure what to look for? Here's a video of someone following a car mounted with a Google Street View high resolution camera.
Google have enlisted a Canadian technology company based out of Calgary, Immersive Media Corporation (who also got a letter from the Privacy Commissioner, btw). It would be upsetting, and just a little typically Canadian if we were to try and stop this type of mapping experience from happening in our country.
Thankfully it seems to be proceeding with little protest. In fact, this Toronto blogger says that citizens have been encouraged to try to be photographed by the Google cameras. Unlike the British village we appear to be having fun with this.
Immersive's website has some thrilling footage taken with their 360 degree view cameras. I like the video of the base jump from the bridge. I'll never do this myself for real, but the Immersive footage will tide me over until I ever get the urge to leap off a bridge.
I personally don't shudder at the idea that my street should find its way onto a global resource like this, but there are places that we might like to consider not putting online such as important public offices or government security facilities. It will be a challenge on how to manage all of this.
Meanwhile I can now visit places from around the world, like this street market in Rome, from my computer like never before. And others from around the globe will soon get to visit Fraser Street, Granville, False Creek, Kingsway, Main, Broadway or Marine Drive through their desktop or mobile devices.
Smile, Vancouver. You're about to get caught by Google Street View.
NOTE: Check out our new online poll on this subject.