Google Street View launched in the UK last week and there has been a storm of protest over privacy. And it’s easy to see why.
Consider this for instance. Barbara has a work colleague called Julie. I’ve met Julie a couple of times at parties and work functions but otherwise I don’t know her that well. So Google Street View comes out and Barbara and her work colleagues decide to look up their homes to see if they’re on there and what they look like. And the shot for Julie’s house looks like this:
That’s me sitting in my car parked outside her house. Even though faces and car number plates might be blurred it’s still possible to identify people by the car they drive, the clothes they wear. That is undeniably me in that picture.
So she asks me later whether I’ve ever been to Julie’s house. “No,” I say. She shows me the Street View picture. Oh-oh, it’s not even as if I’m driving past, I’m actually parked outside the house. Uh…so now I’m scrabbling around for an explanation…oops. I end up admitting that maybe I’ve got to know Julie a little too well.
OK, so I’ve made that up. It’s actually outside our house and I don’t have to think up any explanation as to why I would be there.
But you can imagine all the little incendiary devices laying hidden in Street View ready to be stumbled upon. And in the scenario above it’s no good Google removing the image when they receive a complaint about it. By then it would be too late and the incendiary device would have exploded.
I have ambivalent thoughts about Street View. I can certainly see the privacy issues with it. I don’t really mind being on it myself because I’m doing nothing more innocuous than sitting in my car outside my house, but I can see how some people would mind.
Last week I had to collect a client from an address in Cardiff – a house that was supposed to be difficult to find. I was not only able to look it up on Google Maps but I could also do a ‘drive through’ of the street and familiarise myself with it before I got there. The client was amazed that I was able to find his house without having to telephone for directions (as everyone else does, apparently). For that kind of use Street View is an invaluable tool.
But if I had been photographed in less innocuous circumstances I probably wouldn’t be thinking of it as a valuable tool.
Not that that would be likely to happen of course…