Since its release in 2007, Google’s Street View has captured more than 220 billion images across 100 countries and territories together. These images provide a virtual representation of our surroundings on Google maps, enabling people to “virtually explore the world”. While this tool has proven to be incredibly beneficial for people who travel the world or those who simply need to find an address in their city, it doesn’t come without its downsides.
The privacy concerns posed by Google’s Street View
Even since its early days, Google’s Street View has drawn criticism from digital privacy activists. The images, which were taken from a vehicle with a camera system on top, captured close-ups of homes and private buildings, license plates, and individuals’ faces. It also captured sensitive scenes, such as couples sunbathing and protesters outside of an abortion clinic in Miami.
However, the Google Street View vehicles were also collecting other types of sensitive data. They gathered emails, passwords, and other private information from wi-fi networks in over 30 countries. As a consequence, the company agreed to pay a $13 million settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit over its collection of data.
How to retrieve your data from Google
Having your data out there can put you at risk of criminal activity, from harassment to burglary and terrorism. Fortunately, it’s possible to remove or blur Google Street View photos that may pose a threat to your privacy. To do this, simply follow the steps below:
- Open Google Maps.
- Find and open the photo.
- Click “Report a problem” on the bottom right of the screen.
- Fill in the form.
- Click “Submit”.
After submitting the form, you’ll have to wait for a representative to contact you via email. They will update you on the status of the report or request additional information.
Other information Google collects about you
Google collects a significant amount of personal data from its users. In addition to users’ location and movement throughout the day, the company tracks every search engine performed and YouTube video watched. All of this is valuable information that is stored and analyzed.
The company’s main business is online advertising and the great majority of its revenue comes from it. This is possible through interest-based advertising, which allows marketers to deliver ads based on hundreds of interests and the previous online activity of those users.
In recent years, however, new strategies have emerged to strengthen your digital privacy. It is possible, for instance, to hide your browsing history through incognito mode. Using a VPN can offer an extra layer of protection by making your identity as you surf the web.
Moreover, in 2022, Google released a feature that allows users to remove personal information from Google Search’s results. This feature strengthens users’ digital privacy and minimizes their risk of falling victim to identity fraud and harassment.
While Google’s Street View and Google Maps are useful everyday life tools, they have posed serious privacy concerns by exposing home-closeups, license plates, faces, and activities that should remain out of the public eye. Nowadays, however, it is possible to have your personal information removed by filling out request forms and using tools to boost your digital privacy.