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A refreshing view of Street View

Brian Mingus [PersonRank 10]

Thursday, June 14, 2007
12 years ago2,602 views

I personally think that the privacy concerns regarding Street View are unfounded. It is completely legal and ethical to drive up and down the street taking pictures. If you remove Google's right to do that, you can kiss the digital media revolution goodbye. The Internet is all about blurring the lines and changing the distinction between what is public, and what is private. In the future we are going to have improved hearing, improved vision, and all-around improved senses [0]. Limitations on what can be "sensed" in public would be an absurd violation of our rights and an unnecessary hindrance to the awesome exponential growth trends we are experiencing. If Out Law's [1] analysis of European law is correct, which I doubt (the notion of "identifiable" is very ambiguous, as people rarely wear name tags), it would be an absurd consequence. Phillip would be barred from taking photos of people in public and posting it to his blog, because he shows advertisements.

That said, I recommend this refreshing post from Freakonomics that takes the long view on the implications of services like this [2]. Public repositories of images in this manner will be invaluable to generations of the future, not to mention those alive today. The real privacy concerns we face today have nothing to do with pictures of us in public being on the web. I have personally had my information compromised four times by stolen databases. Once from Washington Mutual, my bank, once from Veterans Affairs (the US Gov), once from my university, and once from the local hospital. Privacy advocates should strongly consider what it is that they are fighting for – restricting our freedoms, as they would like to do with street view, or protecting our truly sensitive information, as they are not effectively doing from an information security perspective.

[0] openthefuture.com/2007/06/the_ ...
[1] out-law.com/page-8116
[2] freakonomics.com/blog/2007/06/ ...

Hashim [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

here's the problem – services like this one create the infrastructure and precedent needed for future evil companies and governments to oppress people.

You must think in terms of, "What's the worst that can happen?".

Brian Mingus [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

That sounds like a baseless conspiracy theory.

James Xuan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

You never know [dun dun DUN]

Brian Mingus [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Do I need to point out that London has > 4,000,000 security cameras? And it's completely legal? I don't see massive oppression in the streets of Londom. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed-c ...

Martin Porcheron [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Because they are security cameras to protect people (well, spy) and not for commerical use.

   In the EU we have laws that state that you can't use the photos of someone else without their consent (or if they are a minor, their parents consent). Of course, Google can still take photos, it must remove the faces of people who they don't have consent to use so that people aren't identifiable.

Seeing as signs of Google's face recognition software are showing up on Google Image Search, I wouldn't be surprise if this will be Google's loophole in the EU.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> > services like this one create the infrastructure
> > and precedent needed for future evil companies
> > and governments to oppress people.

> That sounds like a baseless conspiracy theory.

If history is ever in risk of repeating itself, Hashim's remarks are far from that: the German Nazis during the build-up to World War II were only able to locate many of the Jewish people, and later kill them, due to the database (including data on religion) created with the help of IBM in the years before (and IBM already knew about where the Nazis were heading, in fact, they worked together with Nazis at a time where that was officially illegal for a US company to do). Note: the Nazis would have gone about their work in any case even without IBM, they would just have killed much less people (because they'd be slower to locate them) without their giant people database.

You say you "don't see massive oppression in the streets of" London, but Hashim was talking about a worst-case scenario – a truly evil gov't. And sometimes, gov't's change!

As another indicator, it is no coincidence that Google doesn't enter the Chinese market with user data just yet. And not just because they may not do so legally, because their registration number – "ICP证050124号" – doesn't belong to them, but was registered through the local partner company Ganji.com (compare the number with that page).... but also because they know they'd endanger the users the data of whom they store:

"No, we're not going to offer some Google products, such as Gmail or Blogger, on Google.cn until we're comfortable that we can do so in a manner that respects our users' interests in the privacy of their personal communications."
googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/0 ...

(All this is not saying that we can actually prevent all these technological structures from building up. Maybe that's cultural evolution...)

James Xuan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

eeeww! Creepy!

Martin Porcheron [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Also a few things. London as 400,000>, UK has 4,000,000> (1 for every 4 households or 1 for every 14 people)

Brian Mingus [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> the German Nazis during the build-up to World War II were only able to locate many of the Jewish people, and later kill them, due to the database

So the suggestion is to prevent technological progress "just in case" there is an evil regime that wants to oppress its people? China will oppress its people with or without advances in technology. Every advance in science and technology can be used to hurt people, but this is no excuse for those would-be luddites lurking on the Internet, because it is more likely that it will be used for good. Also, I have to call Godwin's Law in this context. The punch-card system was a *use* of technology. If Merkel decides to use a future incarnation of Street View to systematically exterminate all jews, there is nothing Google, or any other innovator of technology, can do about it. Databases were not designed for the purposes of human extermination. They are abstract constructs of computer science and can be used to store arbitrary information. There are conspiracy theorists among us, that's clear enough from reading the talk pages on Wikipedia. Every single advance in technology can be misconstrued and spun by the sensationalist Daniel Brandt's, but it will never imply that we should keep the Nazi's in mind before releasing groundbreaking advances in interface design to the public. This data was public before Google published it, you just had to be there to see it. Nothing has changed except an incremental step towards universal access of all knowledge. All public knowledge, that is.

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