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Information Centre
Privacy Commissioner inquired into Google Street View Project

 
 


Date: 5 February 2009
Privacy Commissioner inquired into Google Street View Project

1.    The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (“the Commissioner”) Mr. Roderick B. Woo has taken the initiative to inquire into the Google Street View Project (“the Project”) to ensure that it complies with the provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (“the Ordinance”) in Hong Kong.

2.    Google first launched the Project in the US in 2007. The Project has been/will be available in more cities in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South America and the UK. Wherever it goes, the Project sparks privacy fears among local citizens and receives prominent media coverage because its street-level photography with web-based mapping technology captures images of individuals, private properties and vehicles which will then be shown online. In response to such privacy concerns, privacy authorities in different jurisdictions, such as the UK and Canada had expressed their views on the matter and commented on whether or not the Project is compliant with their respective privacy laws.

3.    Recently Google’s Project has spread to Hong Kong.  As the privacy regulator, the Commissioner is concerned with the privacy issues that may arise, in particular whether the Project is compliant with the Ordinance.  To that end, the Commissioner has approached Google seeking information about the measures or precautionary steps that Google has taken and will take in relation to its collection, retention, security and use of the personal data in Hong Kong.

4.    Google declares that the Project only features photographs taken on public properties and the imagery is no different from what a person can readily see or capture walking down the street. The Project does not intend to compile information about specific individuals whose identities can be ascertained. Blurring technology is used to ensure that faces of passers-by in the photographs cannot be identified. They will also blur car licence plates in Hong Kong. Images are not real-time (there is a minimum delay of three months from the time the image is gathered to its publication). This should prevent the images to be used to identify an individual's current whereabouts.

5.    Google assures the Commissioner that if users should consider any image objectionable because it features them, their children, their cars, or their houses, they can report to Google and request for it to be completely removed.

6.    The Commissioner said, "I have not received any complaint against Google in connection with the Street View Project, and the facts presently known to me do not suggest that there has been a breach of the Hong Kong privacy law. That said, I wish to assure the public that I shall look seriously into any complaint made by an affected individual in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance."


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