Google Street View: The Ultimate List (Privacy? What’s That?)

Posted on Jun 11, 2007 in Internet/Technology, National Issues

800px-eyes.jpgLast week, I was collecting a set of links from Google Street View for the blog – but today, I bow to StreetViewGallery where over 100 different, entertaining “StreetViews” have been collected thus far.

I’m assuming that 692 Escondido Road, Stanford, California, remains a favorite.   (Use the zoom function for the area behind the guy walking on the sidewalk, you’ll see why.)

What’s GoogleStreetView?  Google has sent out a couple of guys in a van (here’s a pix of the van) to roam the country, taking 360 degree shots of the streets they’re driving – starting with the bigger (and maybe, cooler) cities and then expanding out.

The goal?  Maps with real-life views, which is great for people who give directions like, “turn left at the McDonald’s and then go down a couple of lights, and then take a right at the high school.  If you past the KFC, you’ve gone too far.”  PaperStreet points out how Google StreetView will be very helpful for a lot of people, finding law offices and the like.

The problem is: that van is really, really doing its job.  When the site launched last week, a woman named Mary Kalin-Casey checked out her home address in Oakland and discovered you could see her cat in the window.  Mary complained on BoingBoing, and others soon followed.   Like the ones complaining about the StreetView of a guy relieving himself by the side of the road, for example.

Google’s Privacy Guru was interviewed at Consumerist.Com.   Short answer: they’ll remove offending StreetViews, but hold that everything shown is stuff anyone could see from the street at that point in time.

Does this meet current privacy laws?  Does this meet your standards or expectations of privacy? What about the privacy standards of other countries?

Some things to think about: while the law does not protect you in situations where you could not reasonably have an expectation of privacy, what about:

1.  these folks who were clearly not expecting to be photographed?

2.  the fact that these images can be seen worldwide, zoomed in and scrutinized — giving a entirely different perspective to something that ordinarily would pass right by your field of vision in a matter of seconds?

A British non-profit that monitors privacy, Privacy International, has given Google its lowest possible rating, something reserved for “comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy.”   Yesterday, the group issued this open letter to Google’s CEO when Google complained that the organization had ties to Microsoft.

As for the legalities, UCLA Law Professor Bainbridge has started a nice legal debate on this issue. His take?  “Google is Big Brother.”

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