Google Street View

Google started Google Streetview [ja] service (GSV) in Japan.

Google Streetview is a service that Google's car with a camera runs around in town taking photos of everywhere and is located in Google Maps.

***The camera***

Photo CC-BY-NC by boingboing

Google Streetview service launched in August in Japan which invited LOTS of debates.

Photo CC-BY-SA by Knife-thrower


There is a hot debate over GSV. Google insists that they are taking photos in the public road so there shouldn't be any problem. Some say it is useful and interesting. Others say it is infringement of privacy, might be used by thieves or terrorists, etc.

Osamu Higuchi wrote his blog titled "a letter to Google"[ja] asking to exclude Japanese cities from Google Street View because of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan. The notion of privacy is linked to cultural lifestyles that differs in each country, and in Japan - in his opinion- Google Street View is not suitable.

Chris Salzberg posted on Global Voices the full translation of this letter: and this is abstract from that post.

-The residential roads of Japan's urban areas are a part of people's living space, and it is impolite to photograph other people's living spaces

-In our way of living, you do not unilaterally, and in a machine-readable form, lay open people's living spaces to the whole world

-Before this problem gets more tangled, please make a decision and take action on this based on your own sense of morals

Discussion went on, and Chris wrote another post "Japan: Debate over Google Street View continues" a week later on Global Voices summing up comments on Higuchi-san's blog, blog posts and comments on this issue. Some of the comments are:

-Certainly it satisfies a certain sense of curiosity to see these places that you normally wouldn't be able to see, and there is a kind of guilty pleasure in that, but when you really think about it carefully, it's actually pretty scary.

-At Baldanders.info, another blogger offers a perspective on privacy [ja] as someone who grew up outside of these urban areas:Maybe it's because I'm from the country, but although I can sympathize with the idea that [Japanese] alleyways [”roji”/路地] are a part of the living space, I don't think that this is connected to the problem of privacy. The reason [I say this] is that this “living space” is a shared space of the neighborhood community in the area, and is not a private space. In other words, this “foreign substance” Street View which has entered into people's “living space” is not something that intrudes on people's private space, but rather something that intrudes on the shared space of the neighborhood. So although I don't see it as a problem of privacy, I do hope that this issue will form the starting point for a discussion on the relationship between the tight spaces that are peculiar to Japan and what is outside of these spaces. This must also have an impact on the way that security is managed in everyday life.

Interestingly, after the discussions about GSV in Japanese were translated into English, the English blogosphere had another round of discussion about this in English, and a blogger "Essa" summarized those discussions and translated some of the debates and responses back to Japanese in his blog [ja/partially en] . So it was 1) a Japanese debate on Japanese GSV and cultural issues 2)translated into English, debated there and 3) those English feedback translated back into Japanese again :)

-Hebohebo programmer diary, had a post on summary of blog posts discussing GSV [ja]

- This blog is fully dedicated to finding interesting stuff in GSV.

***MIAU symposium***

MIAU held a symposium on GSV, and Shinyai liveblogged it [ja] and IT Media wrote an article [ja].

Q: Situation outside Japan?

- In U.S.,Google is sued because of privacy infringement (shot inside room)
- In Canada, GSV was launched and then terminated due to privacy infringement
- In England and France, service launched but in France they only shoot big roads.

Q: Similar services to GSV already exists

- Location View
- Everyscape
- Alps Lab Video
- Iseemedia

Location View launched 2 years ago, but there had not been any complaint filed to the company. This was probably because the company deleted photos with privacy concerns by hand. Google took the opposite "Optout" approach- they shot everything, publicized, and told the users if there is anything that has problems they will take them off. The latter is obviously easier, cheaper and faster, but this approach was questioned by the panelists.

Q: Notion of "Privacy" in Japan

- "The notion of "privacy" changed a lot during those 20 years." says one of the panelists and a lawyer, Toshimitsu Dan. People put their names and phone numbers in the phone book. Name lists were sold and it was not illegal then- now it's illegal.

- Another panelist Masayuki Hatta points out that in the U.S., there are front yards and you can't really see the houses. In Japan, we don't have yards so GSV car can easily take photos of the houses. On the other hand, he says "saying GSV is grose is similar to pre-camera era when people thought "if you get photos taken, your soul gets stolen."


Want to see more of the statistical data of people's perceptions towards GSV?
Those issues depends on who you ask and what they know etc so nothing is definite, but here are some examples.

MIAU symposium's participants were 50% positive 50% negative to GSV.

Hatena user id:gohshi reported that they had surveyed all the bookmark comments [ja] on the original Letter to Google (in Japanese), and reported the breakdown:
Positive: 65 were against Higuchi
Negative: 112 agreed with Higuchi
Neutral: 93

Hatena user id:matsunaga, posted a question [ja] to Hatena Question asking users about GSV and the result was:

Positive “Doesn't bother me. Seems like a good thing.” 123 (41.0%)
Negative “It's creepy and inexcusable. Stop it right now.” 125 (41.7%)
Don't know “GSV, what is that?” 52 (17.3%)

Japan.internet.com carried out an online survey [ja] on this topic:

Q:Have you ever used GSV?
Used Japanese GSV 67.6%
Was using non-Japanese one already 5.6%
Have not used it 26.6%

Q: Have you searched on your own house?
Searched and found my house: 50.9%
Searched but my house was not displayed: 31.6%
Have not searched my house 17.5%

Q: Have you or your friends been found in GSV?
Neither I nor my friends were found 64.9%
I don't know 29.8%
I found myself in GSV 1.8%
I found my friend in GSV 1.8%
other 1.8%

Q: What do you feel about GSV?
-I feel I am watched
-infringement of privacy

***Hiromitsu Takagi***

Hiromitsu Takagi, a security consultant has been looking into GSV problem more than any person I know of.

His series of GSV related blog posts started with this one:

- Notes from Telecom Platform Research Group
Various companies including Yahoo, Google, MicroSoft, NTT, KDDI, JR-West, etc were present. During this meeting, Google said "In Japan, houses has the name plates in front of the house. People do not care about privacy as they are pubicizing their names on public roads."" Value criteria of what is harmful and what is harmless differs among each person, and it is questionable to bind with the ethical sense of academists."

-Would Japanese houses' fence grow 70cm longer in accordance with Google?
Investigating GSV, Takagi-san noticed that there are some places that shows houses inside of the fence, and he went to interview the residents. The issues are 1) cameras were in a high position 2) in the US, GSV cars probably didn't go to small streets and therefore the angle from the camera wasn't that steep, and as a result it did not cover houses inside the walls. Japanese GSVs goes into even extremely narrow roads and takes photos there which could shoot even inside the house if the curtains are open. GSV car cameras seems to be taller than the fences and covers that the citizens put to hide things from the eyes of the public.(Location View which is a similar service sets its camera in a lower position)

-He goes on investigating how GSV car went on to shoot private roads, car license plates, etc.

-He started a survey using Hatena's survey system. The purpose of this research was to check if the tendency differs by the respondants' housing environment.

SURVEY1: What do you think about GSV- positive or negative? [ja]

positive 47%
negative 33%
I don't know 20%

General findings from this survey were:

-people whose own house was shot has the tendency of being more negative about GSV.
-people in houses are more negative compared to people living in apartments.
-people in lower floors are more negative compared to people living in higher floors
-peope who owns the apartments are more negative compared to people who are renting
-people who lives alone are more positive
-people who thinks they have high IT literacy are more positive

He comments that "Hatena people have higher IT literacy than ordinary citizens, so it might have pushed the "positive ration", and also as more people gets their own houses' shot, they might be more negative."

He did another survey.

SURVEY2: What should happen to GSV?" [ja]

No problem, Keep the service as it is 19%
Keep as it if the problems will be solved 33%
Terminate until the problems get solved 17%
Problem will not be solved. abolish the service 21%
I don't know 10%

General findings from this survey were:

-When their own houses get shot by GSV, they have clearer understanding and stance toward GSV.
-Women feel more negative toward GSV (only 9% responded that GSV has no problem and should keep as it is)

-"problems that should be solved by GSV" include:
Car license plates should be blurred (434),
Name plates in front of the houses should be blurred (385)
Publicize Google's criteria of photo deletion (345)
Do not shoot on private roads (342)
Google should delete or edit inproper photos before publicizing (332)
Blur clothes and futon (276)
Do not enter narrow roads (272)
Blur bodies not just faces (265)

-"Do you think the problems will be solved?"
no problem even now 13%
will be solved soon 8%
will be solved in a year 10%
will not be solved in a year but some day be solved 20%
will not be solved 34%
I don't know 16%

***being excluded from GSV***

- "Hey, if you don't want to be in GSV, write "rel="nofollow" on your forehead!" says Ichiru in his blog [ja]:D

- It looks like Alaskan GSV camera was covered with a plastic bag :P

- Japan: Street View's Missing Streets is another blog post on Global Voices by Chris, pointing out about the blank zone in GSV.

Ōta Ward [大田区] (Tokyo) in GSV. direct link to GSV

Hatena blogger id:buyobuyo compares the atmosphere of Ōta Ward in these pictures to Area 51 in the U.S.

A famous blogger Nobuo Sakiyama wrote a post on this:

Outside of Tokyo, a well-known large-scale discriminated community [被差別部落/hisabetsu buraku, or “burakumin area”] (a group from the area has bought a domain and has its own web site, but just to be safe I will avoid citing the actual name of the city and region here) hardly appears in Street View except for its periphery area. There are however many more areas in this city that are also blanked out, and also on the human rights board on 2channel [they are saying] that there is no causal relationship between Google avoiding this area and the fact that it is a burakumin area. Nevertheless, if you know the rough whereabouts of this region, then there is the potential to visualize it on the map.