If you haven’t heard about this already you will definitely will within the next few days. The past few weeks Google has been unrolling new technology left and right. The most exciting debute, though, belongs to Street View, part of the Google maps suit, and something which will likely be integrated into Google Earth soon. The name of the feature is pretty self-explanatory. Essentially by selecting “street view” on the map, you are given the option to zoom in to one of several cities (currently the feature is available for five cities in the US) and take a ride in the streets, viewing a 360° view of your selected location.
This has been done in the past, both by private and governmental organizations and the pictures are readily available online if you look hard enough for them. Google itself, in fact, has contracted several companies specializing in street photography. (View some of their work) However, what I think is exciting about Google integerating this feature into their service is thier ability to take a currently existing technology, take it to the next level, and make it available to the mass population. Additionally, I think that being able to view the world on the street level in Google maps and Earth was an inevitable next step.
I actually looked through some of the Streets in New York and San Francisco. I was impressed to see that many of pictures are in high resolution (unlike some of the fuzzy pictures that are offered in Google satellite). Their interface is also incredibly easy to use. However, their photographs don’t seem to be streamlined well, and don’t feel smooth and continuous as you are ‘driving’ down the street. And of course, you are limited to the street view, no looking up (which kind of bummed me out, since a part of the fun of any big city is to look up at the buildings). What I was most surprised with was that, having never been to either city, I had a completely different impression of what the streets looked like from movies than what they actually looked like. This would be a great tool for tourists-to-be (although it kind of ruined one of the cities for me).
Amid all this excitement, it seems that a lot of people are not enjoying this service all that much. If you look at news reports, many people are concerned about privacy issues, with reports that people can see themselves, their houses, their pets in their windows… At first, this concern didn’t really make sense to me because if one goes out in the public, one can expect that the public is able to view them (unless one is Harry Potter under an invisibility cloak– then I would be concerned). Likewise, today the public in any major metropolitan area is under constant surveillance anyway (the link is a document from the quebec government outlining the limitations of surveillance in the public). It has been reported, for instance, that any average individual in London can be photographed as much as 300 times a day just moving around the city. The difference being that all that information is stored on servers inaccessible to the public.
I am not really suggesting that Google should take the role of a surveillance system, and I don’t think it will. But at the same time some of these same concerns popped up when Google Maps satellite was first introduced. After some additional reading, I understand the concerns of people, and I understand that they stem from the fact that Google is so widely used, and therefore has great potential for abuse. As one slashdot duly remarked on this matter “Wow, it’s a great century to be a stalker.” This site (The Scariest Google Street View Finds) illustartes some of the gems (or erm, causes for concern) that have already been found on the street view.
“This blogger loves his cat, but he probably didn’t want to invite the world into his living room to take a look at kitty.”
Nonetheless, I am a strong believer in the advancement of technology, and I would rather see information and services like this available to the public than not. Maybe it’s not even that I am a believer that technology should advance, but that I know that it will inevitably advance. In light of this, I think there are clearly two options available. We can either deal with new technology, but use our civil laws to strike a balance between protecting the freedom of information for the public and protecting the individual’s right to privacy (in a reasonable manner) OR consider stocking up on brown paperbags.Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi