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Google Street View and the threat to our privacy

In Web 2.0 & all that on March 20, 2009 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , ,

So Google have launched Google Steet View in the UK. I’m sure we’ve all played with it already. I looked at my flat, of course, and scrutinized my windows to see if I could see anything that I shouldn’t want anyone else to see. Thankfully all is safe on that account. I peered at my neighbours windows too, though unfortunately the same applied to them too – no bizarre goings-ons were visible. Not that one expects anything in such dignified parts of North Surrey of course. We have standards. I had a look around bits of North London too, where standards are notoriously lax, and likewise failed to spot anything outrageous. In a fit of desperation to find something I even trawled around the back streets of Soho (online, you understand) to see if I could spot any friends coming out of artistic bookstores or health and beauty emporiums and the like, but those clever people at Google seemed to have done their picture taking of that part of town early on a Sunday morning, and the whole place was shut and not a soul to be seen. You can imagine how disappointed I was.

There has been some fuss and hullaballo, as we all know, about privacy and the like, and the fact that burglars could use it to plan their robberies. I’m not sure I’m too convinced that this is a real threat to anyone. People’s faces have been blurred to comply with tougher European privacy laws (quite rightly too), and car number plates likewise obscured. The pictures are snapshots, so evidently they can’t be used to follow or track anyone’s movements. And if you see yourself you can ask to be removed. And really, who’s so sad as to go around looking for funny pictures, apart from the odd desperate blogger (e.g. “Top 15 street view sightings” (US)) or dreadful, reactionary newspapers like the Daily Mail. And even then the most embarrassing shots they can find are disappointingly tame.

There ARE very real and very serious issues about privacy and the surveillance state and all that, but these are the constant monitoring by CCTV cameras and the like, and the lack of controls allowing any part of the state apparatus to keep checks on where we are and where we’re going, but I really don’t think Google Maps is a threat – surely it’s just a great tool? I’m not naive enough to think that Google are some sort of benign organisation, but neither am I so cynical as to think they’re aiming to turn the world into a 1984 style gulag. Privacy campaigners are likely to do themselves more harm than good going after Street View – they should stick to the real threats to privacy (and liberty etc) bought in by the current administration – at least in this country, and probably elsewhere.

Or am I missing something?

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5 Responses to “Google Street View and the threat to our privacy”

  1. Todays Metro features a photo of someone being unloaded from an ambulance outside an East London hospital close to my heart. This is clearly a bit off and the offending section of road has now been removed.

    It is a bit spooky visiting places you know. Personally I live too far into the suburbs to be deemed worthy of a visit from the Google van – I must admit to being a little disappointed.

    The chances of being caught out in some way are minimal in the extreme due to the snap shot style and the privacy measures in place.

    I am amazed how well it has held up under what must be a lot of traffic

  2. A very timely post by Alan (and if you hadn’t, I would have). Yes, we had a mini-uproar at work. One person was amazed that her front door was clearly visible and another thought she saw herself, but realised it was a lookalike with a similar backpack.

    Look at the bright side–if I want to take a day out of London, I can prevet a town or area to see if it is a dump or not! I was already using the satellite view to do this, but the street view is so much closer to the human experience. And for that reason, so much more threatening for some. My boyfriend found a photo on Street view in which you could see the shadow of the camera they had used.

    Alan F, I am surprised they haven’t visited yet. Maybe they are coming soon? Most of the US has been done–but none of Canada. Yet…

    I wonder if Google is the new Eugene Atget?

  3. […] love Street View, and wish it had been around when I was last house hunting. The privacy concerns worry me not a […]

  4. i think street view is a great idea,some people will try and find fault with everything,what is the problem if you arn’t doing anything illegal,it’s not real time so what does it matter if you recognise yourself,most other people probably wouldn’t be that interested,i would love to see one of myself and family walking down the street what harm can it do ?.There are plenty of sights on the internet need more policing to better protect our children and nothing is done about them.Street view will be very helpful and also lots of fun.The killjoys must have been up to no good.

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