July 10 2008

Google Street View And Privacy

google street viewGoogle Street View was launched in May of 2007, and is an attempt by Google to give you a street level view of their Google Maps service.  Their special cars drive around, shootingtheir images all over the United States, and while there have been some people not thrilled with the idea, in general they’re being left alone.

When they recently tried to launch in the United Kingdom, the privacy advocates of the area have had massive coronaries over the idea of Google violating people’s privacy in such a way for commercial gains.  The privacy concern has also been raised in various locations around the United States of America, and North Oaks, Minnesota even banned them from coming into the city.

The first thing that comes to my mind is if you are out on a public street, do you really have any claim to “privacy”?  With the ever growing amount of closed circuit television cameras all over the world, isn’t all privacy gone in these times?  My view is if you are on a public street, out in the open, you have no claim to privacy.  Even if you are just outside of your house, standing in the yard, if it is a public street, then you have no claims in my book.  If it is a private road, then, yes, you have every right to be annoyed by this.  If it is anything a normal person could see while passing by, then, oh well, that’s life.

The privacy advocates also seem to to feel that part of this issue is because Google is using these images in a commercial venture, and that is part of what makes this so wrong in their views.  Google has said they are working on technology to automatically blur people’s faces, as well as hiding license plates on vehicles.  The folks in the UK are still saying this isn’t good enough and they would prefer to see Google not do this at all in their country.  Simon Davis of Privacy International told the BBC,””Google likes to think of itself as a global player. In reality it is acting like an irresponsible adolescent.”

mathew stWell, if Google is acting like “an irresponsible adolescent”, then what of the number of webcams popping up all over the world?  As the technology has gotten cheaper, and easier to use, people are setting them up all over the place, transmitting images of whatever happens to pass in front of them to the entire Internet.  This image to the left is one of four webcams set up on, monitoring activity on Mathew St in Liverpool, UK, outside of the infamous Cavern Club where The Beatles were discovered.  These cameras became famous in 2006 when a man in Dallas, TX helped the Liverpool police apperhend three men breaking into a business on the street.  He had been watching the cameras when he spotted the break-in happening, called the Liverpool police and the men were taken into custody.

Why do I tell you all this?  Well, if people are concerned about the Google cameras, why are the Mather St cameras okay?  The picture above was taken on July 5th, 2008 at 11:58 AM local time.  Were these people aware they were on camera?  Did they give their permission?  Doubtful to both questions, but this isn’t very different than what Google is doing as these images are shown on a page that features advertising on it, i.e. a commercial interest.  Why is a situation like this okay, one that has received international attention over that robbery, but Google is doing something so horribly wrong?  (for the record, I have no problem with what is doing, it’s public streets, more power to them)

I’ll be blunt in that I feel this is a form of a witch hunt.  There are times that anything a big business does something, people immediately see it as evil and wrong, but if someone small is doing the same thing, no one says a thing about it.  Again, Google is taking images on public streets of things any person driving by in a car can see, why does this make them in violation of privacy rights?

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