Children's safety group wants city off of Google's Street View

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A national children's advocacy group is pushing to get Pittsburgh removed from the Street View of Google's map search until the technology is refined so pedophiles can't use it to pinpoint children's homes, schools and playgrounds.

Street View, an addition to Google Maps that uses vehicle cameras to take 360-degree, street-level views of neighborhoods, allows users to virtually cruise down a street and across a city. In the process, the tool shows pictures of children, toys and family cars that could tip a would-be predator to an area where children could be found and potentially victimized, according to the group, Stop Internet Predators.

Street View is available in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and 17 other cities in the U.S.

Google has said it would consider requests to remove such images from Street View but has not yet done so, according to Stacie Rumenap, executive director of Stop Internet Predators. Until the tool can be used without potentially endangering children, it should not be allowed, she said.

"We want parents to have the opportunity to safeguard their children and for them to have the level of privacy and security they deserve," said Ms. Rumenap. "Our children's safety should always be the No. 1 concern when allowing a new technology to come into our neighborhoods, and putting the burden on parents to opt out of the system seems unacceptable."

In an e-mail statement, a spokesperson for Google said the company has taken steps to help ease concerns.

"It's important for people to understand that if they are not comfortable with the imagery available on Street View, we have easily accessible tools for flagging sensitive imagery for review and removal. We also proactively blur visible faces in Street View," the statement said. "The imagery available is the same as what one would see walking down a public street.

"Regardless, we have given our users the power to let us know if potentially sensitive imagery should remain in Street View."

The tool, which debuted last October, has not been used in any crimes against children, according to Ms. Rumenap. But her group wants to prevent any such use by persuading municipal leaders to get it removed until it can be used without displaying images identifying where children live, study and play.

Ms. Rumenap met with Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato yesterday. She has been meeting with officials, parents and teachers in Manchester, N.H., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., to enlist their help in getting their communities taken out of Street View, and plans to meet with such groups in Pittsburgh later this month.

She also is working with children's advocacy groups in other cities to expand the campaign beyond the four targeted cities where the tool already has been widely used.

Kevin Evanto, a spokesman for Mr. Onorato, said the county asked Ms. Rumenap for more information on her concerns and expects a follow-up meeting in a few weeks.

North Oaks, Minn., a private community of 4,500 north of St. Paul, asked the company in January to remove images of its community or risk being cited for trespassing. The company quickly removed images of the town.

Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo said the North Oaks situation is unique because it is a private community and no other community -- public or private -- has made a similar request. The company removes images when individuals make the request.

Ms. Filadelfo noted that all of the images available on Street View were gathered as much as a year earlier that they were made available to the public. There are no live images available.

"We've seen a lot of good benefits from [Street View] across the country, people telling us it helped to look at a neighborhood before they moved in," she said. "Certainly we're concerned about any abuses and we review any concerns that are brought to our attention."

Google has agreed not to photograph domestic abuse shelters anywhere in the country. But it still takes pictures of children, although it has agreed to blur their faces so they can't be recognized, according to Ms. Rumenap.

"We argue that's not enough because you can still tell it's a child," she said.

In April, Franklin Park residents Aaron and Christine Boring sued Google over Street View. The tool's online photos of their home, they said, violated their privacy, devalued their property and caused them mental suffering. They are seeking more than $25,000 in damages. Google has asked for the lawsuit, filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, to be moved to federal court.


Staff Writer Ed Blazina contributed. Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at 412-263-1122 or aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com .


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