Tech Milestone or Privacy Infringement?

I’ve just taken in panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Harbor and the Colosseum — even though I’ve been curled up on my couch all morning.

Ah, the power of technology. Google Street View, in particular.

The capability — which allows users to virtually walk the streets of several major cities in the world, complete with 360-degree views — has garnered countless fans for its ingenuity.

While it probably is thoroughly intriguing to take a virtual stroll down a neighborhood, especially if it’s to check out a celebrity’s pad, not everyone welcomes the tech advancement.

In fact, some groups have voiced concerns about the intrusion of privacy that results from this and similar technology.

A CNN article outlined how mapping technology could be dangerous in the wrong hands. One issue that was raised was the potential risk of compromised security.

It turns out certain technology offers a glimpse into top-secret locations such as nuclear power plants in the United States. Critics say terrorists from around the world could easily access this technology, which may serve to enable attacks on American soil.

“It struck me that a person in a tent halfway around the world could target an attack with a laptop computer,” Joel Anderson, a Republican legislator in California, was quoted as saying.

I suppose you don’t even have to go that far. What about crafty burglars plotting their next heists? They certainly could use the technology to further their own agendas. I have to admit: The thought that strangers could have complete — albeit virtual — access to my backyard or living room is a tad unnerving.

Such sentiments led an Oakland, Calif., woman — whom some referred to as the “crazy cat lady” — to raise a red flag because of privacy concerns.

Back in 2007, the woman raised a cry when she performed a Google Street View and it turned up not only a picture of her house, but also — when she zoomed in close enough — a glimpse of her cat perched atop her window sill.

Talk about a hair-raising moment!

The incident has since been documented in a New York Times article that went on to publish this written statement by Google: “Street View only features imagery taken on public property. [The] imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street.”

One way the IT giant has sought to quell privacy complaints is by applying blurring to various images in which people’s faces and license plate numbers are clearly identifiable.

In another semi-amusing turn of events, Google announced it would apply its blurring technology to mask the faces of individuals in — er — compromising positions.

One gentleman was captured on camera nonchalantly strolling solo out of a sex shop in London; another was caught throwing up on a sidewalk outside a pub. Yet another can be seen scaling a gate, prompting some cyberclowns to insinuate the man was breaking and entering in broad daylight.

Even scantily clad women sunbathing on a patch of grass didn’t evade Google’s cameras.

I could go on and on about the leisurely jaunts people take that instead turn into embarrassing — and probably permanent, might I add — online keepsakes, but hopefully the vast majority of these same individuals wouldn’t deny the benefits that such advancements in technology have ushered in. The bottom line, however, remains: Where do you draw the line? How do you determine which sights are permissible and which ones are off-limits?

At least one famous musician has asked for his home and entire property to be removed from Street View to ensure privacy and security: Sir Paul McCartney.

Countries such as Japan and Greece also have had a bone to pick with Google, demanding that the company either stall filming until their demands are met or reshoot in certain areas.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a clear-cut answer or formula that can be applied across the board and satisfy everyone, but parties with differing views somehow find a way to compromise and reach a middle ground. And Google continues to work its magic.

– Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley

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