Disappearing streets, Hacking Google

So Google was given a bit of a tap on the wrist after the whole Street view debacle. It’s ended up seeming like the agencies in charge of investigating the search giant on the privacy charges have taken them at their word when they say “We’re sorry, we didn’t mean it.”

Taken a step further yet, it’s surfaced that while you can opt out of having your home, face or anything else blurred or removed, you don’t even technically need to have a stake in the location. If you search an address on Google Maps, use the street view option, on the bottom of the page there’s a tiny grey text link stating simply “Report a problem”. Now clicking this link, will open a new page for you, where in you can describe the problem you’ve encountered in a neat little form. It could be a privacy issue, an inappropriate picture or the ubiquitous “other”. Upon filling out the few fields of informations, selecting the image you have a “problem” with, Google sends you a confirmation email and that’s that. In a few days, the site disappears; interestingly enough, there’s no corroboration as to whether or not you have any claim on the image you report. Possibilities abound.

More from Google and privacy? Okay! Anyone remember Google Buzz? Wouldn’t surprise anyone really I think if there wasn’t much mention of it, it was rather short lived in the social media sector. When Google flipped the switch on Buzz, they made a life ending (for Buzz) mistake; they exposed peoples Gmail contact lists. It didn’t take them long to fix it, but in the instant it was discovered, it doomed the idea. And because we all have something to hide, a class action was brought against the company stating in essence that “..Buzz publicly exposed data, including users’ most frequent Gmail contacts, without enough user consent.”

The courts have reached a resolution in the matter, and in the end US based Gmail users get nothing. In their email to users Google stated: “The settlement acknowledges that we quickly changed the service to address users’ concerns. In addition, Google has committed $8.5 million to an independent fund, most of which will support organizations promoting privacy education and policy on the web. We will also do more to educate people about privacy controls specific to Buzz. The more people know about privacy online, the better their online experience will be. Just to be clear, this is not a settlement in which people who use Gmail can file to receive compensation. Everyone in the U.S. who uses Gmail is included in the settlement, unless you personally decide to opt out before December 6, 2010. The Court will consider final approval of the agreement on January 31, 2011.”

And to put a final twist on the Google of today, they want you to hack them! From their security blog posting “Today, we are announcing an experimental new vulnerability reward program that applies to Google web properties. We already enjoy working with an array of researchers to improve Google security, and some individuals who have provided high caliber reports are listed on our credits page. As well as enabling us to thank regular contributors in a new way, we hope our new program will attract new researchers and the types of reports that help make our users safer.”

As was evidenced by all of the closed testing they could muster (Buzz), nothing can substitute for opening up the gates to the world and saying “Break it if you can so we can fix it!” It’s all laid out in their post here, and who knows, if you’re good enough you may receive their top pay of $3,133.7.. those who know, know.