Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A view on privacy

If you've used Google Maps then you have probably tried the Street View feature that lets you look around a place on the map as if you were actually there. Unless you are in Germany, that is. Germany remains the largest European country that is not covered by the Street View service. The German government has forced Google to offer an opt out service that allows people to request that their houses are blurred out of the pictures in the same way faces and vehicle registration plates are. Some privacy campaigners in Germany would prefer that appearing in Street View should be an opt-in feature.

Street View has been available as an option on the aprs.fi APRS tracking site for a few months now. It's fun to virtually travel along with an APRS user and see what they see. But Street View has a serious use too. If you're house hunting then it would be a great way to see whether you like the neighbourhood, for example. When Olga and I went to Prague last month the taxi driver from the airport wasn't sure exactly where our rented apartment was but because I'd "visited" the area in Street View a few days earlier I recognized where we were and was able to direct him right to the door. (Incidentally the Czech government has also called a halt to further data collection in the Czech Republic pending talks with Google.)

I don't know what people think they are achieving by insisting on being able to opt out of Street View. It shows nothing that you can't see just by being there. What are they trying to hide? Anyone can take pictures of an area, upload them to the internet (without blurring anyone's face or vehicle registration number) and link them in a way that anyone searching for pictures of that place will find them. All Google has done is go about it in a more methodical way. Are we going to have controls on publishing photos on the internet now?


Paul Stam PAØK said...

Hello Julian, I don't understand either why people are so paranoid. I have nothing to hide, you can look at my humble house here in Heiloo. 73 Paul

Jeff Davis, KE9V said...

Having nothing to hide is no reason not to think this is all a bit of madness. I mean, if I could go back into time just thirty years I could become wealthy by making a "science fiction" movie of what has become of us.

Imagine, flying private little drone planes over the entire planet taking photos of people's backyards...

The only difference is that in a Sci-Fi movie the viewers would have assumed that the only entity capable of such a dastardly act was some corrupt government.

Viewers would have been stunned to learn that no, it isn't the government - its a corporation doing this and citizens of that future world don't seem to mind the loss of privacy much, I mean heck, that same corporation gives them FREE email so what the hell?

Wait until they begin collecting your DNA and making it available online. I'm guessing no one will care much, especially when they give us some FREE television shows in exchange. They will probably begin with a limited beta and just watch the idiot masses beg to get in on it...


Jeff KE9V

M0XDF said...

We opted out, it showed my wife standing in the kitchen (front of house) and she objected, there is a link in the view you can click to have them remove the view.
Shots of the same road, same day show very young children on bikes with faces and lots of cars from an angle that aren’t obscured. With a mac, entire screen zoom is std and simple, I could read a lot of our neighbours plates.
Having had one burglary in the street at 23:20, they opened the door with a device that went through the letter box (the owners had just gone up stairs to bed), opened the door, took the car keys and phone, wallet that were on the desk and stole the expensive car to order (it was in the S/V image), I believe S/V helps criminals plan a theft.
It might help pedophiles plan a kidnap.
I have a lot of stuff in my garage, it is my workshop, if the garage door had been open, all that would have been visible on the web, as a number of our neighbours garages were.
I consider this an invasion of privacy and totally support the German government. in their stance.

Unknown said...

Thanks for giving the other side of the argument, David. I still feel it doesn't give anyone, including thieves, information they couldn't find out just by driving past themselves, and if that's an invasion of privacy then surely so is someone taking a photo that happens to include you or your house. But I'm sure what you said will give people food for thought.

SimonF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Stam PAØK said...

Well, a plan for kidnapping? I think it's a bit of too much reading thrillers. The only thing to fear is fear itself. 73 Paul

M0XDF said...

I anticipated some of these arguments. Agreed that criminals would visit the streen, but being able to 'case the joint' via a web means neighbourhood watch (that's my XYL) would not notice the car and they can preview a vast sight more streets before then taking the next step.

An individual taking a photograph would just be one individual, and unless they took loads and placed them on the web with all the location info, would not be of much help. Plus one can go and challenge someone taking a photo of your house. And I believe that generally, ordinary people taking photos aren’t particularly interested in taking a photo of any old house.

I think you'll find that those interested in children do indeed plan where and how they will attack and being able to see if a given location is worth looking at further.

Steve GW7AAV said...

Personally I think Street View is brilliant. We have used it for RAYNET to show the ops exactly where they need to be and how to get there (some of them are hopeless with a map, despite hours of training). Like Julian I have been on holiday and had been given poor directions, then satnav put the postcode a mile away. Without having viewed everything on Street View I would have spent hours looking for our cottage. The aerial shots are useful too for working out if we will be able to have room to deploy antennas and where we might park. I also use Google extensively when planning SOTA activations although my mapping as such is done on Memory Map. On one occasion we needed a to find a shop in a strange town it took a few minutes via Street View, we would have never have found it.

Theodore said...

The English are so used to socialist rule where the god given right to individual freedom has been subsumed by a government peddling "security".

The last and most important bastion of individuality is the mind, and that is under continuous attack by multiple forms of media and social conditioning.
How sad that Julian seems to have succumbed to this mantra of convenience over individual freedom.

Theodore said...

As regards criminals using this to plan a crime, is anyone who is half way intelligent going to forgo the opportunity to study the area, roads, escape routes, topography, rooftop layouts?
I suppose the military and spy agencies only use surveillance satellites in case their roving, camera snapping spies can't take snaps of their target.

When the Romans were unable to subdue insurrection in an occupied city, after finding force ineffective, they discovered a sure fire cure.
They legalised gambling, prostitution and other "entertainments".
Eventually the people were so focused on entertainment that they were no longer interested in personal freedom from an oppressive foreign government.
Sound familiar?

Unknown said...

Theodore: 'The English are so used to socialist rule where the god given right to individual freedom has been subsumed by a government peddling "security".'

I thought it was a corporation doing this, not only that but an American corporation?

Theodore said...

Governments have long been the vassals of corporations and basically act as a shopfront offering pseudo options to voters who think they are choosing alternatives.
This is similar to the old salesmans trick of saying "would you like to purchase our product in green or blue?.
A roman poet coined the phrase "Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt".
This was his observation in watching the freedoms of the Roman republic gradually giving way to dictatorship.
George Orwell also lucidly described the current situation, which he foresaw so vividly:
During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.