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Dean Whitbread 2013

Dean Whitbread 2020

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Written on March 21, 2009, and categorized as Flip side, Politics, Society.
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Google Street view has struggled to launch in the UK. As in the US, authorities have insisted on the blurring of faces and number plates. Post-launch, the press is now full of the comical (men with trafffic cones on head) and also the more serious (man in sex shop entrance) infringements of privacy that Street View presents.

This wave of protest about the invasive nature of Google’s newest money-spinner is presented by their lawyers and PR teams as small, but actually it is large.

A straw poll of my neighbours in our mixed but largely working class area show that most have heard of Google Street View, if only in the past few days’ news. When I showed my neighbours the details I had found, some were angry. They saw it as a kind of private CCTV, and resented the intrusion. But, all lacked the knowledge to act against it.

It takes the combination of being internet literate and rights aware and motivated to make your concerns known. Only a fraction of people affected will make their voices heard, and Google are relying on this. People will be included in Street View against their wishes, but without the opportunity to assert their rights.

Yet, the number of clear abuses of privacy revealed by a cursory look at this product are anything but small. Within 15 minutes I had navigated to my own local area and found recognisable faces of my neighbours, their children, and my flat. The Google camera car has even taken an unwarranted detour off the public road and driven around my car park, revealing the entrances and balconies of the apartment block where I live.

It occurred to me after firing off 14 “reports” to them pointing out the error of their ways, that there is a way in UK law to force Google out of their “presumed consent” position, which let’s face it is an appalling position to maintain – imagine it applied to personal abuse for example.

We need to win a test case to assert that unless consent is given, nobody has the right to use images of a person or their property for commercial gain, directly or indirectly. That surely should be the de facto position across the board. Why commercial? Because it brings focus on the real issue here: images of real people and their places of residence are being used to make money without their permission, and without their accruing any financial benefit. So much law applies to this area of commercial exploitation, it will possibly be more a more fruitful legal path to take than the Human Rights Act, which is fraught with complications.

Certainly Google’s photography is likely to have broken laws already in place. No hawkers, it says clearly on our noticeboard, unchanged in 25 years. It’s a local bylaw. Isn’t Google doing a 21st Century version of “hawking” their digital wares, by sending round a camera car?

And today, it’s been reported that while some images have been removed, images next to those reported to be altered or removed which show different angle versions of the same people or property are still clearly visible.

It seems as if Google continues to grow, and as it does so, its power reins largely unchecked. “Do no evil” could eventually be seen as the most Orwellian of contemporary catchphrases.

Update: Google have removed the images, Emma from the Islington Tribune emailed to tell me. Still, I wrote to my MP because I do think the issues go beyond my local complaint.

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One Comment

  1. tsparks
    Posted 25 March, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Dean, we have had “Street View” here in Seattle for a while now, before that Amazon.com had done a similar street photo mapping project part of A9.com (Amazon closed their project). To be honest these privacy issues had never occurred to me. Thanks for bringing the topic out in the open. I am not sure how I feel about it now.

    Previously I had gotten some utility from the service, finding a photo of a business storefront I was unfamiliar with. Here in the states people using iPhones can see the Street View in their Google Maps app on their phone. It does come in handy.

    I am not familiar with laws in my city about street photography, I must look into this.

    Thanks.

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