/ Technology

Microsoft Bing’s blurring omissions – your car number plate?

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.

Comments
Member

That’s almost as bad as Google street view blocking alot of road signs, when they even go to the effort of displaying them in the overhead view. And one street view I found clearly should number plates and the faces of 3 small kids ( you did need to scroll up the small block of flats ). FYI Its were my nan used to live and I was curious what it looked like now.

Luckily there’s no street view of my road available, guess I’ll stick with Google. And I gather Apple Maps is pretty poor too ( at the moment )

Member

Maybe if Microsoft used decent software rather than relying on their own, we might get somewhere. Google is not perfect either.

The images should not be available online until real human beings have glanced at them to try to spot obvious problems. Both Microsoft and Google could probably afford to do this.

Member

I notice that Yandex (Russian equivalent of Google) also doesn’t bother to blur number plates on its Panorama feature, which is its equivalent of Google Street View.

By the way, in this country and in most of Europe (except Switzerland), we have number plates, not licence plates; the licence is a separate document displayed in the windscreen. The most notable country to use licence plates is the United States. By using the term “licence plate”, I think you’ve been watching too much American television or films!

Member

Fair point Nfh, we’ve made a tweak.

Member

I wish they’d tell me when they were doing it then I could find some way to act the fool 🙂

Living at the end of a cul-de-sac, I’m hoping that they haven’t decided to come down our street yet. On most maps it still doesn’t exist and our cars are nicely hidden at the end of the street. One trip on Bing maps and they’ll know exactly what’s parked there and will probably see a window open coz we’re forgetful like that.

Member

I assume it’s the tech constantly improving but the UK streetview is a much higher resolution than US version. Also, and I assume this has something to do with the comparative sizes of our nations, the UK version is far more complete than the US version, which by my reckoning isn’t even half finished yet.

And now, since this is supposed to be about Microsoft’s entry into the field, what in the hall are they playing at? Google has done all the hard work and now they’re duplicating it. It’s good to know that they’re providing employment, but couldn’t they put it to better use than to exactly duplicate someone else’s work? To me this demonstrates completely the trouble with Microsoft.

They’ve never had an original idea in their lives.