Google holds official ‘Street View’ launch in TA (JERUSALEM POST) By BEN HARTMAN 04/23/12)
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Google has taken steps to ensure security and privacy in its Israel
version of the street-level imagery technology “Street View,” the CEO
of Google Israel said on Sunday.
Speaking at the official launch of the Israel branch of Street View
in Tel Aviv on Sunday, managing director of Google Israel, Africa,
and Greece Meir Brand said the company “takes security very
seriously” and has held a number of “very productive” meetings with
Israeli security officials to ensure the technology does not put
lives at risk.
In terms of what actual steps have been taken, Brand mentioned the
implementation of technology that blurs faces and license plates in
photos, as well as the fact that Street View only covers public areas.
Following its unofficial launch on Thursday, the company has received
calls from people complaining about pictures that were not obscured,
while many in online forums joked about the technology’s habit of
occasionally obscuring faces on billboards and posters.
For a company that prides itself on being the world’s largest search
engine and open source of information, Google was rather opaque when
asked specific questions about Street View Israel. Both Brand and
Google Israel spokesman Paul Solomon would not divulge what steps
they have taken to ensure there are no security threats, saying only
that they held meetings with Israeli security officials and that
Street View only shows public areas.
In addition, Solomon said the company does not have figures on what
percentage of Street View Israel users are from countries that Israel
considers enemy states, nor how many privacy or security complaints
they have received since Thursday night.
While it is true that the technology, which currently only allows
users to tour Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, does not produce live,
real-time images of what is taking place on the street, it is not
hard to imagine how a would-be terrorist could make use of Street
View for intelligence gathering purposes.
The technology does not allow someone to zoom in closely on the
entrance of the Arlosoroff train station, but a user can easily get a
panoramic view of four different entrances to the Central Bus Station
in southern Tel Aviv to gauge what level of security is present at
each entrance, as well as which locations appear to have the highest
level of foot traffic.
The security precautions are clear when looking at specific locations
in Israel. For instance, when traveling down Kaplan Street from
Dizengoff, the user hits a force field of sorts at the corner of
Dubnov Street, and is not allowed to go any closer to the Kirya
military headquarters further down the street. In Jerusalem,
Smolenskin Street, where the Prime Minister’s Residence is located,
is completely blocked off behind a blurred haze and cannot be entered.
Next to Smolenskin Street however, one can see the heavily- blurred
remnants of the Gilad Schalit protest tent and across the street a
sign can be seen that says “1929 days in captivity,” indicating the
picture was taken on October 5, 2011. As a result of Google’s privacy
technology, the face of Gilad Schalit, one of the most famous in
Israel, is blurred in two posters at the protest camp.
Also present at the Sunday press conference were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron
Huldai and Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav. Both joked about the downsides of
the privacy protection, with Huldai saying that blurring the faces
keeps potential tourists from realizing how good-looking Tel Aviv
residents are, and Yahav saying that it wouldn’t help people trying
to size up blind dates ahead of time.
Beyond the jokes, both expressed their belief that the technology
will help attract people to visit the cities and experience their
Google also spoke of the technology as being largely for those
wishing to take virtual tours of heritage and cultural sites such as
the Via Dolorosa and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the
Jaffa Port and the Bahai Gardens in Haifa. It also provides panoramic
views of the Western Wall Plaza, but doesn’t allow users, Jewish or
otherwise, to tour the Temple Mount for the time being. That said,
they do plan on eventually including the Western Wall tunnels in
Google Street View, according to Gadi Royz, a project manager for
Google visiting from the US.
Yuval Wagner, of the Disabled Peoples Association in Israel,
demonstrated how he can use Street View before heading out to a
restaurant to see how high the curb is or if it has wheelchair
access, and plan accordingly.
Launched in 2007, Google Street View technology is currently
available in 36 countries across the world. According to Google, in
the near future the company will expand the technology across Israel,
including to cities like Nazareth, Tiberias, Acre, Beersheba, Bat
Yam, Daliat al-Carmel and elsewhere, as well as tourism sites like
the Dead Sea. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/23/12)
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