Google added satellite images search to its Google Maps and Local programs this week. Using technology from satellite mapping firm Keyhole, which it acquired last fall, Google lets users view satellite images of homes, businesses and other locations in the United States and Canada.
“We do think that Google Maps + Keyhole gives you a great way to see and explore your world,” John Hanke, general manager of Keyhole, wrote on Google's blog about the new service.
Google Local and Maps users could benefit in several ways, Hanke said, including typing in the address of a potential new home and getting a view of that home from the air.
“Thinking about spending time at the shore this summer? Search for hotels with Google Local and check out the 'beach' in 'beachfront,' ” he wrote.
However, Google's addition of Keyhole technology raises privacy concerns because users can type in nearly any address and view an image of that home, business or other location.
“If Google's product is ever combined with public information and becomes highly popular, it will pose a risk to very sensitive businesses,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of public interest research firm World Privacy Forum, San Diego.
Dixon is concerned mainly about sensitive locations, such as shelters for abused women. In some cases, directories and Internet firms have mistakenly published the shelters' addresses, letting domestic-violence offenders track down women.
Amazon's A9.com Yellow Pages, for example, which shows users street views of millions of businesses and their surroundings, mistakenly included addresses of women's shelters, Dixon said. When the problem was brought to Amazon's attention, the company immediately removed those addresses.
Google needs to take a similar proactive stance with the satellite imagery so it is not misused, Dixon said.
“Keyhole hasn't gotten to the level yet of seeing license plates of cars parked outside a business, but eventually the technology is going to get there,” she said.
Google needs to provide consumers and businesses with an “opt out” of the satellite image search, which it has not yet done, she said.
In related news, Google co-founder Larry Page said the company would start accepting personal video submissions from its users as part of its beta Video Search program begun in January, which lets users search video clips and television program content.
Page discussed the personal video clips at the National Cable Telecommunications Association meeting in San Francisco this week, according to news reports.