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Google overcomes security paranoia, launches Street View in India

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After over a decade during which Indian bureaucrats resisted Google’s attempts to digitize Indian streets by photographing them with camera-mounted Innova SUVs, Street View is finally launching in the country, the company announced on Wednesday. 1.5 lakh kilometers of roads in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Nashik, Vadodara, Ahmednagar, and Amritsar will be covered first, Google said.

Curiously, the security concerns the bureaucrats cited appear to have disappeared, at the same time that the tech major is partnering with two Indian companies — Tech Mahindra and Genesys International — to do the photography on their behalf.

“Our India launch marks the first time in the world that Street View data collection is being brought to life completely by local partners,” Google said in its release. No wonder, as local companies have consistently been allowed to photograph Indian streets while security concerns miraculously stopped Google from doing the same thing.

In 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that since terrorists might use data from Street View to plan attacks, Street View would not be approved. Even before that, when Google was dipping its toes into capturing Street View data in Bangalore, the city’s police commissioner ordered the company to stop, citing similar concerns.

Those concerns did not stop firms like WoNoBo, which as early as 2013 offered a Street View-like experience, unimpeded by Indian security agencies. Interestingly, WoNoBo is run by Genesys, the firm that Google is now partnering with to provide Street View. Google has opened up the Street View API to other local developers.

Interestingly, MapMyIndia, a Google Maps competitor whose CEO frequently criticizes Google Maps due to its foreign nature, and as a “privacy-invading ad giant,” also announced its own Street View-like service on Wednesday, going neck to neck with Google’s announcement.

The firm was a bit keener about emphasizing the all-Indian nature of its service than Google was, with CEO Rohan Verma saying that the service, called Mappl, was a “fully indigenous alternative to foreign map apps, that is more advanced in its capabilities and is more valuable for users, while also being fully Indian”.

Protectionism in digital mapping has been a part of Indian policymaking for a while. Last February, the government came out with rules that restricted the accuracy and access to information that foreign mapping firms like Google would have, while providing preferential access to Indian companies.

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