Whether it’s Google Streetview or Microsoft’s Bing Streetside, it’s handy to see locations down at street-level. But how would you feel if your car number plate was clearly visible?
Ever used street-level mapping services? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done a virtual walk on Google Streetview to save myself from getting lost in real life.
I love street-level imaging, which is put together by fleets of cars driving around taking 360-degree camera shots. And it seems Microsoft loves it too, as it’s breaking into this type of service with its own Bing Streetside mapping.
But for many, there’s an uncomfortable matter of privacy to consider. Would you want your house displayed online for anyone to see? How about if your car was parked outside?
Your car number plate online
We were contacted by reader Sandrine Gee, after a family member emailed her a picture taken by Bing outside her house.
Her car’s registration was plainly visible, as were Sandrine and her two young children as they left their house. Though their faces had been successfully blurred, they had been photographed alongside the family car with its registration number clearly visible, and easily associated with her street address.
Microsoft claims it has ‘developed industry-leading image processing software’ to automatically blur faces and number plates, but Sandrine’s story shows how easily this automated process can fail.
Microsoft told us the issue rarely crops up. ‘It can happen,’ a spokesperson said. ‘The blurring is done automatically, but like all automated systems there’s a chance that things will get past.’
We requested that Microsoft blur the image or take it down, and if you find your own details are similarly available, you can request the same (Microsoft’s reporting hotline is 0800 881 5372).
How would you feel?
Our personal information is increasingly available online, and the question for all of us, of course, is how does this make us feel?
Sandrine told us she was concerned that her number plate being on display could risk identity fraud. Theoretically, number plates carry a low risk of such fraud, but they can still be exploited when associated with a home address.
If this were my home and my car, how would I feel? In all truth, this isn’t so different from someone walking down the street and spotting a car parked outside a house, putting one and one together, and associating the number plate with the address. And I don’t waste too many hours fretting about that.
But when our details start cropping up online, it’s natural to feel a twinge of concern. Even though I haven’t decided how I feel about lapses like this, I do think it’s essential that Microsoft responds quickly to anyone who raises a complaint.