Israel: Google Street View Will Be “Good For Tourism & Image”

Matt McGee, Israel: Google Street View Will Be “Good For Tourism & Image”, Search Engine Land, Mar 6, 2011

If all goes according to plan, Google’s Street View service should be driving through select cities in Israel soon and the photos could be online later this year.

It’ll be Street View’s first move into the Middle East but, despite the obvious security concerns, the Israeli government says the service will be good for tourism and appears to be ready to let it launch with what one interested observer calls a “minimalist approach” to security issues.

About two weeks ago, a committee led by Israel Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor announced plans to cooperate with Google to bring Street View to Israel. The committee announcement says Israel’s experts will “work to protect vital public interests” in its talks with Google.

But Dr. Andre Oboler, director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia and editor of ZionismOnTheWeb.org, tells Search Engine Land that Israel’s approach to Street View security may be no more strict than any other country.

“When I spoke with the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem,” Oboler says, “they said they were looking forward to working with Google Street View and that ‘It will be good for tourism and for Israel’s image’. When I asked about restrictions, I was told security installations would be off limits, personal privacy would be respected, and ‘everything else is fine’. This is a minimalist approach, no different from Europe, which is surprising given Israel’s very real security concerns.”

Security Concerns Over Street View In Israel

Not everyone agrees with the idea of a minimalist approach to Street View restrictions in Israel. Mordechai Kedar, a retired Lt. Col. who served 25 years in Israeli intelligence told the AP that Street View could help terrorists find new targets. “We already have problems with Google Earth, which exposes all kinds of facilities,” Kedar said.

In fact, Palestinian militants have already admitted that they use Google Earth when planning rocket strikes in Israel. In 2007, Google said it was looking into accusations that anti-Israel propaganda had been added as an imagery layer by Google Earth users. There’s even a US law that prevents the sale of satellite images of Israel at very high/specific resolutions.

History would seem to suggest that Israel should be hesitant about Street View. But Oboler says the government is “ready to engage” despite the possibility that some Street View images may cause embarrassment or worse.

“Links to pictures of Palestinians being searched at security check points will no doubt flood the internet,” he says. “The various protests that cause clashes with police will no doubt be caught by the Street View car, even if protesters need to be there continually for months to ensure it happens. Street View will, of course, see the security measures Israeli’s themselves go through on a result basis, such as a full airport-like security check, complete with an X-ray on bags, just to enter a shopping center or bus station. It will see the fallen rockets and holes ripped into trees, walls, and concrete missile shelters in Sderot. Ultimately, with everything captured by the Street View car, it will be a matter of what people search for, and which images go viral through social media. With hostile governments, terrorist organizations, and NGOs that have become partisan to the conflict in an anti-Israel manner, all scouring the Street View images for material to attack Israel, there will be political fall out.”

In a recent blog post for the Jerusalem Post about the pros and cons of Street View, Oboler suggested that Google be required to store its Street View data in Israel in order to ensure that the government can hold Google accountable to whatever terms the two sides agree on. But as others have pointed out, Google’s infrastructure is based on the use of thousands of redundant servers around the world and its products likely wouldn’t work if they were limited to hosting in a single country. Oboler recognizes that such a requirement would “force a significant change to Google’s approach to Street View’s implementation.”

Google Remains Quiet

Google’s cars have not yet driven in Israel and the company is staying quiet about its timetable for launching Street View in Israel. A Google spokesperson shared with us the same statement that it’s given other reporters recently:

Street View is a popular feature of Google Maps which is already available in 27 countries. We aim to offer the benefits of street-level imagery to users all around the world, however, we have nothing specific to announce at this time.

Despite the Israeli government’s apparent enthusiasm for the service, there are reports that Google would move slowly in Israel, potentially only driving three cities: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Such limitations in where Street View goes might mitigate some of the potentially troubling images that Oboler mentioned above – missile shelters in Sderot, for example.

For now, Google and the Israeli government are talking through the steps necessary to launch Street View in Israel. The government’s statement indicated a desire that Google “operate the service in Israel as soon as possible.” Perhaps more so than in any other country to date, people will be watching Israel closely when it happens.

(flag image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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