Invasion of Privacy?

04/07/2008 12:53

Invasion of Privacy?

Google Inc. is apparently being sued over their semi-new “Street View” feature of Google maps (click here for source article on For those of you that aren’t up to the second with Google’s features, they are having people drive all over the place with digital cameras on their cars. The photo’s are then upload with the location info to Google maps, allowing you to see a picture of the address you’re looking up. Although not of the highest quality, these pictures can be rotated and zoomed as well as the camera being able to move up and down the street.

Apparently, a couple that lives outside of Pittsburg PA is suing Google as the taking of the pictures “…violated their privacy, devalued their property and caused them mental suffering.” They claim that the pictures taken of their home could only have been taken from their long driveway which is marked as a Private Road, and thus Google trespassed on their property.

Google’s spokesman is quoted as saying that there is a link on their page that can be used to request an image removal.

Those of you with a security mindset will have already checked your own address to see what’s visible. For example, my house had recently had the lawn mowed (the clippings are out at the curb), and there is a strange… brown… thing in my driveway. As I said, the quality isn’t all that great when zoomed in.

This is a situation I am running into ever more frequently: this is a really cool feature that could be extremely useful, but makes the hairs on the back of my neck standup. The pictures of my house appears to have been taken from the street, and frankly I don’t really care if someone can see what my house looks like.

However, as with any tool, it can be used for good or evil. If, for example, I was a web savvy thief, I would look at my house and note that there are bushes that are obscuring the windows which would screen any entry attempts from the street (they have since been clipped down). This would be a great way to canvas an area without ever exposing yourself. The pictures aren’t up to date, but at the very least they offer a very intimate way of familiarizing one’s self with an area, all from the comfort of your PC. In fact, the Pentagon recently banned Google’s mapping team from military bases for just this reason.

But I digress.

What I am really beginning to take issue with, is the ascertain that an “opt out” feature is justification for whatever an organiztion wants to do with information about me. Google is not the first company to have recently had privacy concerns raised and respond with an opt out policy. In fact, I’ve received microscopically printed opt out notices from most of my credit cards, my bank, and other financial institutions I deal with. Now social networking sites are grappling with this issue like,, and others. They are all basically saying: if you don’t want your information shared with X, please jump through hoop Y, call number Z, and jump up and down on one foot while chanting “I love telemarketers , spam and pop-up ads!”

Organizations don’t do this because they are (necessarily) evil; they do this because most people don’t pay attention. If they made their programs opt in instead of opt out, almost nobody would sign up for it. They know this. So by making it opt out, once again almost nobody signs up to opt out.

Having spouted all of that, I don’t know what a solution to this issue is, or even if it should be an issue. But, I think it’s worth discussing.

(Note: I personally rather like Google, and in full disclosure, own some of their stock)



Topic: Invasion of Privacy? -J-

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