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Monday, May 16, 2022

Google Maps, Privacy And The Eye In The Sky As More StreetView Photography Added

The L.A. Times writes about the issue of privacy and Google’s StreetView photography, in the wake of more cities getting StreetView coverage. It covers much of the same territory as when the service initially launched (here’s our original article). But the service has become one of the focal points in the discussion of the Internet and privacy.

In a strict sense, there’s no difference between a private individual taking the pictures of building exteriors and Google doing so — except that Google has built an easily accessible database that creates a quasi-permanent record of the images. But as pointed out in the article and in our earlier coverage, what Google (and Microsoft, among others) is doing is legal and Google does offer a mechanism for users to identify images that they want removed (albeit after the fact of their exposure).

Some people differ on the value or utility of StreetView (and this category of photography on maps). I do happen to think that more imagery is helpful to add context to maps that can’t be conveyed simply through text. It’s a great deal more helpful than satellite imagery for example, as is Microsoft’s “Birds Eye” aerial photography.

And there are a number of use cases I can think of where StreetView is quite practical. For example, in the context of residential real estate, pictures of homes and the surrounding neighborhood are very helpful information for would-be home buyers. It’s also helpful to see building exteriors when trying to locate the site of an event or meeting.

But the psychological and philosophical concerns that arise when one considers that there are cameras everywhere – the “eye in the sky” – and that one might be captured on film outdoors at any time are the real “hot buttons.” This is not to dismiss them. But this is also not an issue of Google’s making; Google’s StreetView just brings it into focus for everyone more clearly.

Of much greater concern, in my mind, is the issue of government wiretapping and warrantless searches. However this area is more obscure (literally) and less well understood by ordinary people. But, generally, the Internet and technology are moving much faster than our capacity as a society to sort all the potential consequences and implications out. This has always been the case, but the pace of change and innovation is accelerating.

People search, camera phones, data retention, user-generated video; all of these have privacy implications that should be discussed and addressed very self-consciously. But like it or not, cameras are in fact everywhere and “the eye in the sky” is essentially here to stay.

Postscript: More Street View Cities from the Google LatLong Blog has the official news that San Diego, Los Angeles & Orange County, Houston and Orlando have Street View photography.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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