You may have digital chills when pondering how much data Google collects about you, but the legislators in the E.U. are having serious spine-quakes, and are trying to regulate. An unexpected side-effect may be the death of E.U. Street View.
This tussle has been in the news recently, spurred by some maneuvers in the E.U.’s government about how long Google is permitted to store data about European citizens. The Euro types have particularly focused on Google Street View, and the 12-month period those (sometimes highly personal) images are retained in Google’s massive server warehouse. Europe wants that time cut to six months. Google insists that it needs to hang on to the 360-degree image data it records from its fleet of cars, tricycles, snowmobiles, and such, for an extended period in order to maintain the quality of Street View. The search giant’s mapping algorithms work by trawling through the data, trying to register the SV images with 2-D maps, and matching up refreshed images with old ones–the retention period is closely tied to how frequently Google refreshes the raw SV data, which is an expensive business.
It’s this raw, unblurred high-quality imagery that’s got the European lawmakers in a tizzy–and we’re not just talking about the rare moments when SV has actually invaded people’s privacy by taking images on their property, pictures of drunken folk passed out on the verge near their front porch or road accidents. The concerns are that Google is stepping on pretty much everybody’s privacy, and may choose at any point to use the data in ways that would make European blood pressure boil. Is this driven by Google’s totally arrogant misstep on privacy at the launch of Buzz? Possibly not, since the diplomats will have been rolling with this for a while…but I’m sure after the Buzz debacle the Europeans worried about Google doing things like auto-image-recognizing folk in Street View data, or what not.
And here’s where the crunch happens: In response to the E.U. maneuvers, Google’s chief technology advocate Michael Jones just said “I think we would consider whether we want to drive through Europe again, because it would make the expense so draining.” That’s a guarded threat, leveraging Google’s might and teasing the fact that if European Street View disappeared, and then became a global phenomenon somehow, then Europe would be missing out. Frankly, this seems like pointless saber-rattling, but you never know.