Saturday, April 11, 2009

Great Googly Moogly! Google has created an unecessary uproar

Recently in Canadian media there has been an uproar over Google driving up and down in a non-descript car with cameras on it filming every street in major cities. Sightings of the car have been made in various areas of Toronto including West Hill (as reported by the Toronto Star on Thursday). The major issue that is being brought up is a right to privacy.

The main argument over privacy is Google is taking pictures without permission from those having their picture taken. Privacy advocates believe Google should apply to each person walking up and down the street being filmed by the Google car for permission to be included in the Google Street view project. If the person refuses to have their picture taken, then the Google car cannot film them.

Jennifer Stoddart, the federal Canadian Privacy Commissioner, believes (as per this release on the Privacy Commissioner's website) that the above to be true. Stoddard would like Google, and other similar companies performing the "Street View" concept, should blur any faces or car license plates if permission is obtained. Further, the Privacy Commissioner calls on these companies to provide press releases of the date and times the streets are going to be filmed and where people can ask questions or provide requests that their images be removed.

Google has done a lot of what it has been asked to do. Google blurs the license plates and peoples faces. Google even removes pictures of places that have requested to be removed from the Street View function of Google Maps. But what Google doesn't do is tell the exact dates and times of where they are going to be filming.

On a normal film shoot with cameras, normally this isn't an issue. On a movie set they put up notes stating that this area will be filmed on a certain date and time. At banks the closed circuit cameras are made known via signs and/or television screens near the entrances showing that the area is being filmed for security purposes.

Google's Street view project is different from movie or closed circuit security cameras. Google is filming the entire city of Toronto and some of it's suburbs which means that thousands of kilometres of roads need to be driven and filmed. This presents several issues including how long the filming project will take. The main issue is how long the filming car will need to be on the road to ensure every street is properly filmed and documented. Issues with the car included weather, traffic and other possible issues that slow traffic. Obviously if traffic is moving well during filming then it will take less time to film each city. Conversly if traffic is really bad, it will take longer for the car to finish the filming project. Add to this problem include the tomfoolery that has been presented by arts and other groups who wish to have their little productions filmed by the car. Some of these groups were covered in the Toronto Star articles on April 4th and April 9th. These groups only either slow down or prevent the filming car and/or present unrealistic scenes of the neighbourhood.

People in Canada need to realize that as soon as you walk out your front door you may be filmed. The only place that one has control over where filming is not likely to occur unless self permission is given, is in your own private residence. Cameras are everywhere these days. The media taking pictures for the newspaper can have your image online in minutes without requiring your permission. Your average citizen these days can have web cameras pointing out the window without your knowledge and may also have digital cameras and cell phone cameras. Also with the advent of further technology more cameras or other image taking devices are likely to become available. Thus, one shouldn't be surprised that their picture could be taken at any point after leaving their residences.

Having your picture taken by anyone is now a fact of life. Some refuse to acknowledge this and wish to have their privacy protected. If this is the case, the reality is then don't leave your house for any reason because if you do, you could have your picture taken and, possibly, uploaded to the internet in a matter of minutes, hours, days or years later all without your knowledge.

As for Google, thanks for acknowledging the privacy advocates by removing certain scenes at request and blurring license plates and faces in the project. These are obviously a case of a good company hearing their critics and attempting to resolve an issue. Google, after all, is only filming what can be seen by anyone walking by. If you don't want people or Google going by your place on the street, then please live in a gated community. Otherwise, please don't complain about your privacy being invaded when, clearly, it isn't.

2 comments:

  1. I agree that people should wake up to the realities of the modern world.

    The only thing I don't understand is blurring licence plates... they are not a distinguishing mark on a vehicle anymore than a dent, chip or crack in the windshield. So all those things should be blurred too. A licence plate only identifies the vehicle and not the person in it and so should not be covered by privacy objections.

    This is especially true given that you can't search "street view" to find things in the photos because they are not tagged. I can't go looking for AAA-111 (ON) to find all the photos it is in.

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  2. Yes I agree,,we, not only we but all people in this world should wake up to the realities !

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