Google has been forced by public pressure to retake the entirety of its Street View photographs in Japan, with the camera lowered 40cm to prevent people’s homes being exposed to the world by a camera peeping over their fences.
Google’s Street View addition to Google Maps, which allows users to access photos taken from public roads in a number of countries, has long incensed many Japanese, who have complained of rampant violations of their privacy.
A variety of online and citizen’s groups had raised a range of complaints about the scheme, chiefly centred on the failure to obtain consent before photographing people’s homes, and the wide variety of abuse the photos can be put to, with everything from burglary to stalking conceivably facilitated.
Until now Google had largely ignored them, providing sops in the form of mosaics and removal on request, as well as automatically blurring number plates (and frequently random text visible on signs), but in the face of increasing anger both online and off, they have finally relented and introduced further changes.
In response, Google finally caved to the growing unhappiness by reducing the height of its cameras by 40cm to reduce visibility of private property from the roads, and has announced it will retake its entire database of photos from the new height.
Additionally, it is offering a variety of reporting features, including an offline telephone reporting line, to allow people to opt out of its developing surveillance network. Sections of Streetview occasionally become mysteriously unavailable, and it seems this is the cause. It will still assume people consent to having their property photographed, however.
Google has put a brave face on the defeat, hardly mentioning the vociferous protests, instead saying it “adjusted the program in accordance with the width of roads and the local housing conditions.”
Allowing people to request removal of their domicile may be a measure unlikely to satisfy many offline groups, since it seems the vast majority of those whose homes are photographed are likely unaware of the fact and are being imposed upon as a result.
The simplistic argument that “people should have no expectation of privacy in a public space” may once have been applicable to such cases, but clearly cannot apply to technology which in a few iterations will enable ubiquitous real-time monitoring of anyone visible from a public space.
Perpetually recording and watching people come and go from their homes and to who knows where else will hardly be impeded by merely mosaicing their faces, so if people are to retain some semblance of privacy in the digital age responsible conduct or regulated activity is necessary from companies such as Google.
Tales of people’s private lives becoming public knowledge with disastrous consequences are already becoming commonplace.
Of course, allowing virtual access to the cities of the world also brings with it significant economic benefits, only likely to increase…