Google office in Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
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
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.
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.
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
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
Beyond the jokes, both expressed their belief that the technology
will help attract people to visit the cities and experience their sights
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.