Street view could put kids in harms way

The Internet has brought some fantastic innovations, especially in the last several years. I find that Internet maps especially come in handy. Gone are the days when bulky maps are carted around or the family wagon is pulled to the side of the road so mom and dad can argue, I mean "discuss," directions. Internet maps and GPS services are easily available to help everyone navigate the roads a lot more smoothly. While many software companies have maps available, Google has taken it to the next level through the use of their Street View service that allows users to easily view photos of nearly any street they want to see.

Unfortunately, with these fast-moving and helpful innovations, there can be serious drawbacks. Recently, Google got a lot of attention when it was exposed that their Street View software was collecting unauthorized data from wireless networks. For anyone unfamiliar with the process by which Google collects images of streets and houses for their Street View program, it is important to note that they have surveillance-equipped vehicles that drive around neighborhoods cataloging geospatial data.

The bigger problem is that such vehicles collect data and photos without the consent of the people who are featured in the photos, which are then posted online for anyone to see. Beyond the obvious pitfalls of collecting data unbeknownst to users and then not informing them for what purposes the data will be used or what will happen to the data, the photos themselves could be used for malicious purposes.

Google recently made Street View more user-friendly, which certainly deserves applause. But they missed the mark in better protecting kids by not taking the extra step to remove all images of children who are unsuspectingly photographed. Why place the burden on busy parents who already feel they are not able to keep up with technology when it comes to protecting their families? Allowing parents an opt-out feature, while seemingly a helpful tool, simply is not enough - parents ought to be able to opt-in instead.

If you are anything like my own parents, you probably are not cruising the Internet every free minute of the day, or possibly not even online every day, as is the case for the majority of today's teens. You also may not understand every new technology, nor do you have the time to learn about every one. So figuring out how to opt-out of these types of new, intrusive and potentially dangerous programs is not high on your radar list.

Street View seems harmless enough. But considering that the technology allows online users to view zoomed-in, high-resolution photographs of their homes, parks, schools, and in some cases, even children playing outside, sadly, it is only a matter of time before someone uses this site to harm a child.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, on behalf of the Executive Committee for the Multistate Working Group (a 37-state coalition), sent a letter last week to the Senior Counsel at Google regarding Google's unauthorized data collection practices that have been revealed as part of their Street View software. The letter posed several important questions concerning Google's practices with regard to Street View. It is our hope that Google not only answer these questions, but also considers proactively removing the images of children featured on Street View.

It is disturbing that Google would collect unauthorized data, and then claim zero knowledge of the collection or how or why it happened. This kind of behavior is certainly unbecoming, and disturbing, of one of the largest search companies in the world, a company that proclaims to "do no evil."

Stacie Rumenap is the President of Stop Internet Predators.