Does Google Street View really invade your privacy?

It’s been interesting watching the reaction to Google’s new Street View. Privacy’s the big issue — and I’m as concerned as anyone about the UK government’s plans to introduce ID cards, wrap the UK in CCTV coverage and generally ensure that every move you make is stored in a database somewhere. This is an issue I’ll return to in future posts.

But back to Google Street View — and I think some people are over-reacting, or at least not thinking through the consequences of their positions.

There was Jeremy Paxman on NewsNight the other night grilling the company’s UK CEO about privacy, and I’ve read dozens of items from individuals complaining about the same issues Paxman raised. These include worries about why Google can legally take pics of their house and publish them on the web without anyone’s say so.

Well guess what? Anyone’s been able to do that since whenever. You can photograph anything and reproduce it as long as it’s not copyrighted. People are another matter of course.

Photographers have it tough right now, with the police seemingly under orders on the pretext of preventing terrorism to pounce on people taking photos with anything other than a point-and-shoot camera. I’ve read plenty of anecdotes about amateurs as well as professionals with SLRs (and sometimes tripods) being questioned about their motives. Have we really become that scared?

What we don’t need is campaigners bellowing that Google is somehow invading their privacy followed by lies from the Daily Mail sparking a whole new round of legislation as a result.

Pics of houses are surely OK as long as the house in question isn’t identified with an individual. One person has argued that Street View delivers an image of their car with legible number plates outside their house – which I’d agree is a bit annoying, although even then, you can’t assume that a nice car belongs to a particular house. And Google does promise (and I’ve no idea if it has or how quickly it has) to remove/blur images where appropriate.

Let’s have a serious think about what’s really private before we go making life even more hell for photographers and others whose ability to capture images is already being constrained. No-one’s complained about their activities before…


One Reply to “Does Google Street View really invade your privacy?”

  1. I feel it’s a little silly to complain about an image on the web when you can view self-same vista with your own eyes whilst walking along the road. There is NO expectation of privacy on the public highway. Oh the irony of those people who barred the Google car from entering their no-name little village in the name of privacy – only to have the world press descend en masse!

    I agree that the current crackdown on amateur photographers is alarming. How many more civil liberties are going to eroded in the name of “terrorism”? Frankly, I think the terrorists may have already won.

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