Andrew Wahl: Privacy in the age of Google maps
- September 19, 2007 12:54 PM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a collection of daily columns from The Business Network, which airs weekday mornings on CBC Radio One at 5:45 a.m. ET (6:15 a.m. ET in N.L.). Andrew Wahl is the Business Network's technology columnist. He is a senior writer at Canadian Business magazine.
By Andrew Wahl
(Listen to the original audio)
I don’t know where you live, but I bet that cars drive past your home all the time. You probably think nothing of it.
But what if the car had a special camera mounted to its roof, and it snapped a photo of your house? And what if you were standing in the window at the time? Finally, what if a company made that photo available on the internet?
Sound a little far-fetched? It’s not. That scenario is already happening. The car is being driven by a Calgary firm called Immersive Media, and as it trolls along, it uses a specialized camera to capture high-resolution spherical images—360-degree views of surrounding streetscapes.
Immersive now sells those images to Google Maps for its Street View feature, which let’s users see a street-level perspective at any point along a roadway in nine major cities. It’s very slick technology, and good on Immersive for coming up with it.
But it’s now raising thorny questions about what’s private in full public view.
Last week, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner wrote to Google and Immersive informing that they may not pass muster with Canadian privacy laws — specifically, the part about businesses requiring individuals’ consent to collect, use or disclose personal information.
Now, the camera is shooting from the street, so whatever it captures is already in public view. On the other hand, a camera can work much better than the human eye. That changes the meaning of what’s in view.
Still, the real problem is how easy it’s become to spread and find information.
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That inherently puts it in conflict with notions of privacy. Google will remove or blur a person’s image — if someone complains. But that’s not good enough for Canada’s privacy laws.
No doubt there will be some work-around developed. The irony? People choose to share all kinds of personal information on social networking sites like Facebook with hundreds of their closest so-called friends, and do little to actively restrict who sees what.
Is it harder now to keep information private? Absolutely. But we’re our own worst enemy.
- Andrew Wahl
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