- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

COLUMN:

Child predators can access pictures of your son or daughter’s school, bus stop, soccer field or even your home - all without setting foot in your neighborhood, according to child-safety advocates who urge parents to be vigilant about new technologies like Google Inc.’s “Street View” application.

Stop Child Predators, a group of policy experts, law-enforcement officials and parents, last week opened a new campaign targeted at online programs they say could unwittingly aid perverts and deviants. Known as Stop Internet Predators, the project is focusing on Street View, a function of Google Maps that lets users zoom in on more than 60 metropolitan areas in the U.S., eyeing street-level close-ups of cars, buildings and even people.

“It’s frighteningly simple,” said Stacie Rumenap, executive director of Stop Child Predators. While Street View does not offer real-time images, she said its database of archived pictures - which allow users to magnify and rotate the frame 360 degrees - could be used in a potentially dangerous way.

“Street View could make it simple for anyone to map the most likely route your child walks to school, calculate the distance between your front door and the bus stop,” she said.

The group’s purpose is to increase awareness among parents, urging them to lobby their local governments to “ban” the service, which first went live in spring 2007.

“As the Internet evolves, the way in which predators prey on children evolves with it. We as parents owe it to our children to educate ourselves on the potential dangers by being proactive,” said Laurie Myers, president of Community VOICES, a child-safety awareness group.

This isn’t the first time that Street View has sparked concern among privacy advocates.

Its rollout has been halted in many European countries that outlaw the recording of a person, even on public property, without his or her consent.

Street View does include privacy features. Users can flag a particular view and report it to Google with a description of the problem or privacy concern. In addition, the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet giant has begun using technology that automatically blurs the faces of anyone whose picture appears on the application, which uses pictures taken from public streets.

Asked about the concerns of the anti-child-predators group, Google spokesman Larry Yu stressed that the company has given “users the power to let us know if potentially sensitive imagery should remain in Street View.”

When the service launched last year, the company reached out to a national domestic-violence group to help remove pictures of domestic-violence shelters across the country.

“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,” he said. “The image available is the same as what one would see walking down a public street.”

E-mail Kara Rowland at krowland@washingtontimes.com.