Google Street View tests privacy limits

Commentary: If a man enters a sex shop in broad daylight, anyone can see him doing so.

August 28, 2011 23:28
1 minute read.
Google Street View car

Google Street View car 311. (photo credit: Wikicommons)


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The seal of approval that Google received last week to introduce its controversial street-mapping application, Street View, into Israel raised many questions. Perhaps like in some countries that have already been burned by the application, this is a legitimate discussion about where privacy ends and technology begins.

Google’s application does allow us to receive a 360-degree visual image of streets in large cities worldwide, which assists us in finding the street where we reserved a hotel in Barcelona or a popular cafe on Bogroshov Street. On the other hand, there is the question of privacy.

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Should Google, which has been coping continuously since its establishment a decade ago with complaints of invasion of privacy, be allowed to photograph a man picking his nose in the middle of the street or a woman strolling on Fifth Avenue in New York with her lover?

The streets belong to all of us and are not owned by Google. On the other hand, we are still talking about public space, and it is therefore difficult to argue that Google is invading the depths of pedestrians’ privacy. For example, if a man enters a sex shop in broad daylight, anyone can see him doing so. Now he needs to take the chance that the Google application might document his actions and preserve them for all posterity. Google did announce that it would blur people’s faces, as well as cars’ license plate numbers, but is this enough from a privacy point of view?

This discussion would have looked different a decade ago, but over the last few years privacy boundaries have been stretched farther and farther and have become extremely elastic. If beforehand people would keep their pictures from their honeymoon in Thailand private, today we can see them in full view on Facebook.

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