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Cheers - AE

Monday, 23 March 2009

Google Street View in the UK

Since it came to Oz about a year ago I've already heard all the arguments for and against, but I expected that when it hit the UK I'd hear them all over again in the British press. And since it's only in parts of the country those living in the three quarters or whatever that isn't covered can obsess and worry about it for months to come. Let me save you the trouble.

Google Street View as far as I can tell is pointless. I've played, looked at my house, looked at local landmarks, tried and failed to find a picture with something funny happening, tried and failed to find a picture with a tram in it, got bored, realized that it's a total waste of time, stopped. That process took a couple of hours. I still don't know what the fuck I'm really supposed to do with it. Google Earth has been very useful to me and the combo map and imagery of Google Maps can be just as handy. For example, with Google Maps I can show you where Senator Conroy's Melbourne office is:

View Larger Map
What more does Street View tell us? We already know the road name from zooming in on the image or clicking the map button, and we'd need that to put into Street View in the first place. It'll tell us what a building or an area looks like from ground level but I haven't quite figured out why Google thinks I give a shit. If I'm going there anyway I'll find out, and if I'm not what do I need to know for? And then there are places that the Googlewagons didn't go, such as outside Stephen Conroy's Melbourne offices. This is as close as they got:

View Larger Map
Now if you were planning to jump on a plane to Melbourne and go to Stephen Conroy's office to explain what a bad idea internet censorship is which of those two images would be most useful to you? It's a solution looking for a problem. That's point one.

Point two, look at that again and just imagine it was a residential street rather than a main road in central Melbourne. Okay? Private houses on the web for anyone in the world with an internet connection to look at. So - fucking - what? It's a public road, the houses are in plain sight, photography isn't illegal. Where's the privacy issue? I can walk along any public street and take a photo, better quality than Google too, and no one thinks it's invasive. I can take a photo at each end and one in the middle and that'd be okay too. I can take a bunch of photos of different angles all the up and down the street, and I can come back the next day and do the same in the next street over, and while you'd be within your rights to ask me why you wouldn't be within your rights to tell me to stop. So where do you draw the line? Is it the systematic approach Google has used that makes the difference? So doing it on foot is okay but roof mounting cameras on a car and doing what Google could be declared illegal. But Google could then do it on foot and achieve exactly the same thing, but much more slowly and at greater cost. Or are people bent out of shape because it's a company? Ban companies then. But professional photographers are companies too.

The bottom line is, as pointed out by the Indy, any law you can think of to prevent Google doing this is going to bugger someone else up as well, and probably lots of someone elses. Instead accept that a reasonable expectation of privacy does not include any part of you or your house that's visible from a public place. if I can go there and look then I can't see why someone can't go there and photograph. This is not telephoto lenses through the letter box, it's cameras nailed to a car outside driving down the road. If you want total privacy then dig a hole and build your house in it, and never leave without putting a burqa on first.

UPDATE: No one will see you having a shit.
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