Germans, Penguins Unhappy With Google, Note Privacy Concerns

by Matt Forcey

Citing privacy concerns, a group of Chinstrap Penguins on Half Moon Island, Antarctica, have filed a formal complaint against Google regarding its use of “Street View” images of their ocean-front residences.

There’s no hiding, Google has now officially mapped and imaged everywhere.  Brian McClendon, Google’s VP of Engineering, announced earlier this week that with the addition of Ireland, Brazil and Antarctica, anyone with a web browser can explore (virtually on foot) all seven continents via Google Maps and Street View.

Street View is Google’s sometimes controversial program that has sent camera-toting teams across the globe in an attempt to photograph, from “street view,” anyplace and everyplace one might visit on Google Maps or Google Earth.  The compelling technology enables users to easily toggle between a traditional “overhead map view” and a “standing on the street corner view”.  With the click of your mouse, Street View makes it possible to visually stroll up and down the street, turning left, turning right, with 360 degree navigation.  Mix in what else Google already knows about the area of interest (shops, restaurants, parks, attractions) and you have a powerful discovery tool.

Not surprisingly though, this level of  exposure doesn’t sit well with many, unsettled by the notion that anyone, anywhere can conceivably look through the front window of their private residence.  Tie this together with the ubiquitous nature of personal information on the web, and these concerns become quite lucid.  See: Germany’s battle against Google It seems the German public, with recent memories of Gestapo and the Stasi overwatch, are more uncomfortable than most being indexed and tracked.

Try this…  Find a house on Google Maps.  Go ahead, any house.  With the help of Street View, you might be able to look right at the front of the house and walk (zoom) up to the living room window.  At a minimum, you should be able to zoom in close enough with Google’s satellite view to see cars in the driveway or a swingset in the yard. 

But before you zoom in too far, maybe you’d like to know a bit about the people who live there.  Not hard to do.  Run a search in Google on the address you just found.  Most likely, in the result list, you will find the name(s) of the occupants, how long they’ve lived there, how much they paid for the house, phone numbers, email addresses, personal profiles, photos, on and on and on.  So, in just a few minutes, you have taken a fairly personal look into a stranger’s life.  The next obvious question is “who else (other than you, stalker) might be interested in building profiles like this?”  Marketers, advertisers, the Fed’s? 

Google’s McClendon of course has a much more altruistic attitude toward Street View.  We hope this new imagery will help people in Ireland, Brazil, and even the penguins of Antarctica to navigate nearby, as well as enable people around the world to learn more about these areas.”

Uti non abuti, scientia potentia est.

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