Google's Latest Silly Privacy Problem

from the oh-no!-someone-saw-me-outside! dept

Well now that Google’s dealt with one ridiculous privacy complaint, it appears it has another to deal with. As Google is preparing to launch its “Street View” offerings in Europe (which let people see photos of the streets they search for on Google Maps), some privacy groups are complaining how its a violation of people’s privacy. Apparently the fact that they were photographed out in public hasn’t occurred to the privacy group. Even more to the point, as Google has pointed out in response, despite the fact that anyone caught in these photographs was in public, it’s recently rolled out a system to automatically blur faces of people who end up in the Street View photos. Overall, the whole complaint seems to be much ado about nothing from privacy advocates who have much more important things to focus on.

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Comments on “Google's Latest Silly Privacy Problem”

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Mike Allen says:


Where are these privacy groups when it comes to illegally (under UK law) handing files over to viacom by order of a USA judge? Nowhere to be seen is the answear. Basically a company cannot hand over information held on individuals to ANY other company. therefore the judge and google directors could be arrested and serve jail time on entering the UK.

jonnyq says:

Re: Re:

“Here in europe we have the right of personality. You are not allowed to take pictures of people without their consent, even in a public place.”

That’s pretty silly. What if I take a vacation picture of a landmark building with my high-resolution camera, and it’s hgih enough resolution that other passers-by are easily recognizable? Is that wrong? Is it okay, but only because the people aren’t in the center of the photo? I don’t see how to slice that in a way that makes sense.

Now, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with municipal CC cameras on every corner, either, but that does seem a bit different.

fi says:

How about private property, rights to a private space like your garden patio...

I think Google needs to inform everyone who may be on this streetmap that they and their property could be on there, they should offer a deadline for ‘detail blank out’ requests. I believe everyone has a right to blank out themselves for security or privacy reasons. Their under 21 children, their property and their assests should also be included. Some people could be in witness protection, some may have valuable assets they need to conceal from the public for safety and wellbeing, for example, people of high status.
I think if a person has private property, they should be able to retain the rights to keep it private by blanking out however much they choose before it is published only to reveal the border in lines and maybe leave a basic line diagram of the outlay. For anyone else, only if they make the effort to contact Google, they may have any part of themselves removed and any assests that belong to them. I like the idea of streetmaps, it’s fine to look at the lay of the land, potential houses or your friends gardens maybe, but what does it actually acheive? There is always the risk that this extremely detailled information will be abused by anyone including stalkers, theives and terrorists.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: How about private property, rights to a private space like your garden patio...


If your home and garden patio is open to and visible from the street then the privacy available is reduced by your own choice. You gave up privacy when you set your property up that way.

The rule you propose about under 21 children works just fine in those jurisdictions where 21 is set as the age of adulthood, consent or whatever. In places where it’s 18, for example, it doesn’t work.

People in witness protection are expected to take measures to avoid being identified in the normal course of events and that would include property setbacks where they live in a fully detached home.

As for the others you mention and other situations you mention if you aren’t taking measures to protect your valuables and so on you’re the one that’s negligent not Google.

(Or anyone else for that matter.)

If you live in a neighbourhood with a high break in rate then the thieves you worry about already know about it so a photo on Google streets won’t change that.

Stalkers will have chosen their target and have found the information they need with or without Google’s help.

Mentioning terrorists is a very red decaying herring.

If your dwelling is visible from the street, if you or your offspring are in a public place, including that part of your front yard visible from the street or anywhere else then you don’t have a right to privacy as you have already given that up.

As for blanking out faces, addresses and so on just where does it all end? I can just see people like you wanting to see newspaper photos and newscast videos where most of what you mention is blurred out to satisfy your rather odd notions of privacy.

The right to privacy is a right to protect citizens from the prying eyes of government and to protect the information government has on us from being misused. The same applies to private companies who collect things like financial and medical records for legitimate purposes and to prevent that from being misused.

It does not apply where you have already given it up by having your house visible from the street, for example, or by voluntarily walking out your front door onto that street which is, after all a PUBLIC place.

I’m sorry for you that you’re so afraid of the world.



Spillman says:

Think a little harder

The expectation of privacy is the issue here. If I’m in my bedroom or my home I don’t expect anyone to see me. If I’m in my yard I only expect to be visible to those within line of sight of me. If I’m on the street in a public place I only expect to be seen by those who are also on that stret ot within eyesight of it. When we step out in public, visit one place or another, we often choose or restrict where we go based on whether we want to be seen.

Why should a person expect that stepping foot onto a public street would suddenly make them visibile to anyone anywhere in the world? Because of the advent of cameras and the internet?

Yeah, I think it’s mostly harmless, but a legitimate point nonetheless. Why should one’s expectation of privacy be lessened because of leaps in technology? Before you answer that it’s immaterial because it’s a public place remember that your street corner was once only public to those people within line of sight of it. Do you want to make your email, ims, surfing and shopping available to everyone everywhere because you “set foot” onto a “public” Internet where technology would allow all to monitor it? The Supreme Court just may rule there’s no difference some day.

DanC says:

Re: Think a little harder

Why should one’s expectation of privacy be lessened because of leaps in technology? Before you answer that it’s immaterial because it’s a public place remember that your street corner was once only public to those people within line of sight of it.

You don’t have the expectation of privacy when you’re in public. Simply because technology has changed the potential audience when you’re in public does not mean you suddenly have a right to semi-privacy in public.

So, to answer your question, it is immaterial, because you shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy while in public in the first place.

privacy advocate says:

think of minority-protection

Does the attitude in “Oh no! Someone saw me outside!” seem a little callous to anyone else? I mean, for an advanced technical/ethical blog such as Techdirt, does this particular argument seem to be missing something?

Is Mike _really_ trying to convice me here that Google Streets Squad rolling past and snapping pics is the same as someone coming by and taking a picture? If so, I would want to add that though the privacy advocates, I’m sure, have no legal grounds to do redress their concerns, they still have a right to those concerns. For one, this is a business operating for-profit. Secondly, don’t I have a “right” (in the I.P./copyright sense) to the image of my face?? Don’t TV programs like Candid Camera have to get people to sign a paper saying basically that it’s OK to use them as actors essentially?

As with any new technology, we never really know the results before hand. There are MANY creative people out there, and with this much new data to pick through, who knows how creative one might be? Now, a good question might be, does the law provide robust protection in the contemporary mileau of internet access to ID-postive photos on a global level? Remember, we aren’t talking user-posted content on social sites. This is part of a new service used to increase value to the company.

For example, a person in the witness protection program who might be outside cutting grass or watering plants or going to the deli; can they expect reasonable privacy with this new development? Is being able to browse the annals of Google photos to look for someone (granted, needle in a haystack in this case) the same as actually getting there physically? Prisoners or others with physical limitations (e.g.-revoked license, can’t afford the gas, etc.) on where they could go would now be able to use another piece of information to “stalk” whomever they are looking for.

Given, this would be an extreme example, but shouldn’t companies like Google and other sites who are capializing on the ‘new’ platform of the internet by using “public” resources like ‘street views’ to add value/content to their sites be concious and THANKFUL to the public for sharing their private yards and residences to be shared with the globe via internet? I am happy to read that they’ve listened to the privacy groups and have chosen to blur the faces of people if they’ve been captured. Of course, a huge protection would be the lag between updates to the photo-DB. Anyone know how they are planning to keep it updated?

I just believe that a human face is one of the most personal things we all have, and sharing that on the internet with who-knows-who out there who might confuse you for an ex-partner or “that person who gave me a nasty look the other day.” I guess if you want any real privacy, in USA at least, you can move out to the boonies or just surround your yard with a six-foot privacy screen.

I can sympathize with people who are not used to living in an era where everyone gets thier “15-minutes of fame.” Most people love to show themselves off, but can we really laugh at people who might find this uncomfortable? Should we be protecting the minority here? What is the REAL value of Google’s new app, and is it necessary? What is the trade in value of individual concerns of privacy and this new “feature” in Google?

Thoughtfully Yours,

arby says:

Google respects your privacy if you are in agreement with their political philosophies and have money. Otherwise, how else would you explain all the gaps in coverage on “Billionaires Row” in San Francisco where all the libs live? And when you look at other parts of the city, the gaps in coverage are considerably less…

John (profile) says:

It continues

Of course this was going to happen. When Google gave into the demands of one privacy group, others came out of the woodwork to make their own claims against Google.

Are these “privacy groups” going after sites like Expedia and Travlelocity who might be showing photos of neighborhoods as a way to show tourists what the area looks like? Or are they only going after Google because they know Google won’t tell them to f*** off?

Pretty soon, we’ll be seeing cases where Google violates some obscure privacy policy by actually showing you your search results in a non-encrypted webpage, where anyone in the world (yes, the *world*) can see what you searched for.

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