I'm finding the current excitement about Google Streetview intriguing.
If you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to take a quick look at the product - it is amazing. Click here, and click on the yellow man. Then start clicking the white arrows. Voila, you're traveling around New York (Greenwich Village, to be precise).
First off, from a technological perspective, it is spellbinding. Such a simple concept, executed beautifully. How they've created the illusion of movement without (as far as I can see) using streaming technology is beyond me. Pure Google. Here's one of the vehicles that took the photos.
First came the amusement. Here are some of the 'best' streetview shots. But the inevitable privacy issues have come to the fore, many of which seem to centre around a cat that was photographed in a woman's flat window. And the latest thoughts and concerns are rounded up nicely on a Boing Boing entry yesterday.
One of the comments mentioned stalkers, but I'm surprised to notice that no-one has said anything about paedophiles. How many schools, kindergartens or playgrounds did the Google car go past? Won't somebody please think of the children? Should these pictures be masked in some way? If so, how? And where do we draw the line? Who draws the line?
We're on new ground here, and it intrigues me to see how privacy expectations and laws flex in the face of new technology. We accept CCTV because it has a limited audience who probably doesn't care about us, so long as we're not breaking the law. But while the streetview data is less detailed than CCTV, it's been provided to a global audience and is but a click away. Comparisons with Flickr or other photo sharing websites don't stack up - to the best of my knowledge, there aren't any pictures of my house on Flickr. Nor my daughter's playground. And even if they were, it would be tough to find these photos armed just with the knowledge of where they're located. Not so with Streetview.
Google claim famously to 'do no evil'. They're in a gray area right now, and their reaction to these concerns will not only affect my view of the company, but will establish a precedent that will almost certainly have implications in years to come.