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Google Defuses Street View Privacy With User Photos

In so doing, the company manages to deflect and dissipate much of the criticism leveled against it for company-directed image acquisition.

Stung more than once by privacy issues, Google is now letting its users kick that hornet's nest.

On Thursday, Google said that users of its Google Maps Street View feature can now view user-contributed photos from Panoramio, the geo-centric photo sharing site that Google purchased in 2007.

In so doing, the company manages to deflect and dissipate much of the criticism leveled against it for company-directed image acquisition.

It's one thing for Google to be capturing and publishing images of a man walking into an adult bookstore, of a woman urinating behind a car, or of one's home without permission.

That's the kind of thing that can lead to a lawsuit, though not necessarily a victory in court -- earlier this month, a Pennsylvania judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a couple in that state that claimed Google's Street View images violated their right to privacy.

It's another thing entirely when Google's users are responsible for the image taking and posting. Google gets far more content with far less liability and far less cost.

Perhaps to encourage more user photo submissions, Google suggests that users' photos at popular landmarks are somehow competing with one another.

"At the most famous places in the world, competition for space is already tough -- take a look at the range of images of the Sagrada Familia -- but on less traveled roads the world is still largely a blank canvas," wrote Google's Frederik Schaffalitzky in a blog post.

According to Schaffalitzky, Google selects geo-tagged Panoramio photo submissions using an algorithm that attempts to match them to location. The Panoramio Web site is deliberately vague about how it calculates its "Popularity" score, which appears to be used to rank photos.

Panoramio photos may also be submitted to appear in Google Earth; Google limits the number of photos it accepts to those that fit its Acceptance Policy.

Is it time for businesses to get serious about location technology? InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).

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