Lithuanian Tax Authorities: Thanks, Google Street View
While other European countries are up in arms over what they say are Google's invasions of privacy, Lithuania is using Street View to uncover and go after citizens with unreported taxable assets, such as buildings and cars.
When Google drove its camera-equipped cars through the streets and roads of Lithuania last year, the Street View data they collected proved to be valuable in one unexpected way: By comparing it with existing official maps and records, tax inspectors have identified over 100 people to date who have assets, such as buildings, that went unreported. Recently, two cases in particular brought in US$130,000 in taxes and penalties because Street View revealed two buildings that didn’t appear on maps. The images generated by Google Street View are much clearer than aerial photos, which authorities say weren’t always useful.
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What’s the Big Idea?
In 2008, as a result of the global financial crisis, Lithuania’s tax department budget was slashed by a third, and a quarter of its employees lost their jobs. At the same time, the government put pressure on the department to increase revenue. Google’s unwitting assistance in this effort has garnered praise not just from authorities but from the populace. Those citizens helped add an extra $3.3 million to Lithuania’s coffers by using a department-designed app to report instances of suspected tax evasion.