Monday, September 20, 2010

Germany opposes Google Street View switch-on

Now here's an interesting story out of Germany - apparently they are not that keen on Google's fantastic Street View tool. In an article from the BBC Technology News website it is reported that Germany opposes Google Street View switch-on. Google Street View is available in most of the USA and Mexico, parts of Canada, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, most of Australia, and a lot of Western Europe - see here for Google's map of where Street View is available. 

According to Germany's Der Spiegel "several hundred thousand people have opted out of Google's Street View service". No doubt many of these people are motivated to opt-out by genuine concerns over security and privacy. In addition to the normal blurring of faces that is available on all Google street view services, Germans can request that their homes be removed before the service launches. Now I have to ask the question "what does this achieve?". Anyone can walk or drive past your house, they can stop and look for as long as they want, they can take pictures, they can put a photo on Twitter and say "look, I am outside so-and-so's" house. Not much privacy there. Equally - I very much doubt if the people of Ecuador, Greece, India, and lots of other countries will invade your privacy by checking out your street on Google Maps. I genuinely don't know why people would want to block their house from appearing on Google Maps - surely a blotted out house would be more curious to viewers than those that are visible - "Hmmmm, I wonder why that house on Cypress Avenue is blotted out - are they hiding something?"

Street view is a cool tool - just check out the following view of Times Square in New York to see what I mean:

I bet that Estate Agents will make use of Street View - nice to be able to check out the neighborhood on-line before you actually go and see a potential new purchase. Or see what your holiday destination looks like. Or find your way to a hotel or restaurant. I just think that it is a fantastic idea, and it's a tool that I love. I don't get people wanting to block views of their house on-line, when anybody can walk by and see your gaff for themselves. What next - screens to block passers-by from viewing your house? Why not blot your street out from not just Google maps, but all other maps as well?

Google Street View is not perfect, and Google have probably had to spend a lot more on lawyers that they might have expected as they negotiate their way around the various different privacy laws. One of the problems with the Google systems is that cameras can only pick up what they see. Take for instance the following view from Deepdale Road outside Preston North End's (my fav team) football ground:

A container is blocking the view of a statue of Preston's most famous son - Sir Tom Finney. Click on the map and use your mouse to view "around" the container, and you will eventually see the statue. 

The future is more open, and the sooner we realize this - the better for us all. We are fighting a losing battle if we want to block views of our property in a world where Google wants to show everything that it can, and where there are CCTV cameras on many street corners. It is going to get more difficult for legislators to plan for openness and privacy.

There's one final thing to keep in mind: Unless you are a celebrity, no one will be bothered to look up your house in Berlin on Google Maps. Your privacy is protected more by safety in numbers than anything Google will do.

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