Sunday, April 5, 2009

Not cool, Google...not cool

Published April 5, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I was listening to a talk radio program on my way home from work last night. The topic of discussion was Google Maps, specifically the “street view” feature they now offer and whether or not this option violates citizen’s rights to privacy.

Some background: Google, the place you go to find out anything about anything, has added street view photographs to their Google Maps feature. Curious individuals can enter an address and see a picture of the house at that address as taken from the street. These searchers can then click arrows for a virtual “walk” down the street and see surrounding houses in the neighborhood. Apparently, these picture series are supposed to link up into the largest “picture” ever taken. Bet you didn’t realize you could walk from Utah to New York without leaving your home office.

Apparently, a group of privacy minded citizens in the UK are crying foul, saying these street view images of their homes violate their rights to privacy. They want this feature of Google Maps shut down, and in the meantime, they’re taking measures to block the roving camera operators in Google Maps vans from taking pictures of the houses on their streets.

Being the curious person that I am, I had to check this out. I typed in my address and was immediately shown a street view image of the north side of my house. A virtual walk west and then south gave me even more perspective on my domicile. There it was--my house--plastered on the internet for everyone to see.

You can imagine my outrage. I don’t know how the people at Google Maps managed to disable the cloaking shield I bought from the Klingons or how they knew how to override that Fidelius charm I learned from my Harry Potter books . Here I was, all relaxed in my assumption that no one could see my house from the street, and I find out it’s completely visible. I…feel…violated.

Okay, Sarah. Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. I mean, how many people actually know your address? You only give that out to family and friends, the school district, doctor’s offices, utilities, credit card companies, the county library. It’s not like anyone can just look up your name, phone number, and address in a book supplied to them by the phone company. Wait…

Obviously, I’m taking a rather facetious view of the whole subject, as I’m wont to do. On some level, I guess I understand why the privacy group is all up in arms about the street view feature. I have pictures of my house on my myspace page, but they’re not open for anyone to see. I choose to make my page private, so weirdoes and stalkers and potentially unstable people (some of whom used to date my husband) don’t have ready access to that information.

However, and this is a big however, I’m not under any illusions that my privacy settings make my home address or the details of what my house looks like completely unavailable. If someone really wants to find out where I live, they will find out, whether they search for it online, in the phone book, or in public record documents. Anyone who really wants to see where I live can always follow me home when they happen to see me in the store. Short of covering my house in a very large tarp, there’s not much I can do to keep people from seeing it. I don’t really think my landlady would go for that anyway.

Things have been a little strained since the Klingons parked their battlecruiser in the backyard.