Letter to the Senior Vice-President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, Google

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Letter to Mr. David C. Drummond, Senior Vice-President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, Google, regarding 3D online mapping technology

August 9, 2007

David C. Drummond
Senior Vice-President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer
Google
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Dear Mr. Drummond,

Re: 3D online mapping technology

I am writing to express concerns regarding developments in 3D online mapping technology, and in particular, the Google Street View application.

Your company’s Street View application, which was launched in the United States in May 2007, is a new feature of your map service and allows viewers to navigate within street-level imagery that was captured at an earlier date. The imagery includes major arteries of urban centers, downtown cores, tourist attractions, business or commercial centers, airports, high growth and developing neighborhoods, sports facilities and arenas.  Significantly, there are also numerous images of individuals contained in the Street View application. Many of the images are of sufficient resolution and close enough to allow individuals to be identified, to discern what activities they are engaged in and to situate their geographic whereabouts.

I understand that the images contained in the Street View application were developed in partnership with Immersive Media, which is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta with Immersive Media Company, in Portland, Oregon, being a wholly-owned subsidiary.  Immersive Media’s website indicates that their GeoImmersive Database consists of more than 40,000 miles of imagery in North America and that they are expanding their collection of GeoImmersive imagery to include additional North American cities as well as major European locations. Their website specifically refers to Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City having been imaged.  I understand that the images in the GeoImmersive Database were captured using high-resolution video cameras affixed to vehicles as they proceeded along city streets.

The mandate of my Office is to oversee compliance with Canada’s privacy legislation.  The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents (PIPEDA) Act is Canada's private sector privacy law, which came fully into effect on January 1, 2004. Pursuant to PIPEDA, businesses that wish to collect, use or disclose personal information about people generally require individuals’ consent, and they may only use or disclose that information for the purpose for which individuals gave consent.  Even with consent, businesses are required to limit the collection, use and disclosure of personal information to purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate under the circumstances.  Finally, individuals have a right to see the personal information that businesses hold about them, and to correct any inaccuracies. 

The provinces of British ColumbiaFootnote 1, AlbertaFootnote 2 and QuebecFootnote 3 have laws that are recognized as substantially similar to PIPEDA. These laws regulate the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by businesses and other organizations and provide individuals with a general right of access to, and correction of, their personal information. As well, the provinces of Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario have legislation that deals with the protection of personal information in the health sector.

Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA. The images contained in Immersive Media’s GeoImmersive Database appear to have been collected largely without the consent and knowledge of the individuals who appear in the images.  These images now appear in your company’s Street View application. I understand that there is a function within Street View which allows viewers to request that certain images be removed.  This is only a partial solution, however, given that individuals may not be aware that images relating to them are on Street View.  As well, by the time individuals become aware that images relating to them are contained in Street View, their privacy rights may already have been affected.

I am concerned that, if the Street View application were deployed in Canada, it might not comply with our federal privacy legislation.  In particular, it does not appear to meet the basic requirements of knowledge, consent, and limited collection and use as set out in the legislation.  I would appreciate your response to the issues that I have raised as soon as possible, given the importance of these questions to the privacy rights of Canadians.  Please contact me if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Original signed by

Jennifer Stoddart

c.c. Myles McGovern, President, CEO and Director, Immersive Media
  David Loukidelis, Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia
  Frank Work, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta
  Jacques Saint-Laurent, Président, Commission d'accès à l'information du Québec
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