Internet Geographer

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Visibility and Google Street View in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and Greece

Why has Switzerland recently decided to ban Google’s Street View service? In fact, Greece, Germany, Japan, and a number of other places have also raised objections to the service. In most of those countries people are free to take photographs in public places and are even free to set up surveillance cameras. Furthermore, as far as I know, none of those countries take issue with detailed maps or satellite images of cities being made publically avaialble on the Internet by companies like Google. So, why is Street View such a sensitive issue?


The objections seem to be related to the idea that Google is capturing a very important part of our sense of place (the visual sense of walking around a city) and making it unviersally and freely available to anyone on the planet. An important component of the places we live in goes from being just ‘here’ or 'there’ to being 'everywhere.’ Google have without a doubt pulled off an amazing feat with this project, and there are many positives to be taken away from it (for example, I just spent almost a wonderful hour 'driving’ around and exploring New Zealand from my home in Oxford). But the explosion of place, and the fact that soon anywhere might be visible from everywhere is also a somewhat scary and worrying thought especially when we consider the privacy implications of a for-profit company controlling this very important information.