Google’s Streetview sparks off privacy concerns


Google, one of the most innovative companies on the block today stays on the top not by resting on its laurels (an awesome search engine) but by continuously adding to its multitude of web services. Google Maps apart from offering satellite views now gives you a street-level view of certain urban districts in the United States. Here is a streetview of San Francisco and here is one of New York’s Times Square.

Wired Magazine even put up a contest that allowed readers to send in submissions of Google Streetview ‘gotchas’. The contest received overwhelming responses and admittedly some extremely funny ones. But few visuals catch people sun-bathing or entering an adult bookstore; something that not everyone is comfortable parading in front of the world. A group pool of photographs on Flickr captures more such examples. New York Times picked up the story from Boing Boing that put the technology into perspective – would we be comfortable if Streetview if it was done by the NSA or CIA instead of Google? Now, that’s an interesting one. In an interview with NY Times, a woman in Oakland, CA expressed her opinion on violation of privacy when she saw a picture of her apartment window where her cat sitting inside is clearly visible. She says:

“The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives. The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”

This is a dicey situation and she is right, where do we draw a line? Are my vacation pictures that can now be geo-tagged with GPS devices also violating people’s privacy just because you can see their window in my pictures? Do we relinquish some rights when we are in a public space and if so, how much? Asking permission from people before we shoot them (with your camera, of course) is polite but is it considered a transgression of the law if we do not? What do you think?