BoingBoing reader demonstrates misunderstanding of privacy

A BoingBoing reader is worried that Google is infringing on his privacy by taking pictures of his cat in a window in his house. In the United States, if you can see something from a public street you are allowed to take pictures of it. A lot of people don’t understand privacy law. I had one guy tell me once that he could keep me from taking pictures of him (he was in a public street). Now, I don’t recommend arguing with people, but he’s wrong.

If we’re going to protect our privacy, we need to understand where current law already is and where we need to write new laws. This isn’t one of them.

For more, look at the reactions of bloggers on TechMeme. “Creepy” says one headline. CNet asks for more examples of such “spying.” No, sorry, it’s not spying and it’s not creepy. If you can see it from a public street it’s not private and you should not expect ANY privacy.

These reactions demonstrate we need to have a new discussion of privacy in the industry, though. First we need to understand what privacy is and when we should expect it, and when we should be worried about infringements. We also need to understand the technology used here. One blogger seemed to think that this data is taken off of live cameras. It is not. It’s taken off of a truck driving around.

Hint: if you can see it from a public street it is NOT “private.” This is journalism law 101 folks. Geesh.

112 thoughts on “BoingBoing reader demonstrates misunderstanding of privacy

  1. Robert: Again, Street Views is not news reporting.

    Newspapers and magazines give context to images by constructing words around it that are relevant to society, even if it’s just a caption. And the context needs to be newsworthy (whatever that means), relatively objective and not slanderous.

    That’s why the picture of the woman at the county fair who’s dress blew up (see post #18) that was published in the newspaper was determined in court to be an invasion of privacy and the plaintiff was given an award.

    Google gives no context to Street Views. Rather Street Views gives context to the masses to do with it as they please, and is therefore an irresponsible move on Google’s part.

    And that brings me back to the additional points I made in my last post, which you haven’t addressed in any way…

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how publicly disseminated information can be used to defame and or endanger. While we can’t blame Google for the misuse of a free and seemingly benign resource, we need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications that initiate a democratic discussion in advance of release.

    Robert: I appreciate your involvement in this discussion. You raise interesting points. Please see my comments more holistically and respond accordingly. What’s your overall position on the debate?

  2. Robert: Again, Street Views is not news reporting.

    Newspapers and magazines give context to images by constructing words around it that are relevant to society, even if it’s just a caption. And the context needs to be newsworthy (whatever that means), relatively objective and not slanderous.

    That’s why the picture of the woman at the county fair who’s dress blew up (see post #18) that was published in the newspaper was determined in court to be an invasion of privacy and the plaintiff was given an award.

    Google gives no context to Street Views. Rather Street Views gives context to the masses to do with it as they please, and is therefore an irresponsible move on Google’s part.

    And that brings me back to the additional points I made in my last post, which you haven’t addressed in any way…

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how publicly disseminated information can be used to defame and or endanger. While we can’t blame Google for the misuse of a free and seemingly benign resource, we need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications that initiate a democratic discussion in advance of release.

    Robert: I appreciate your involvement in this discussion. You raise interesting points. Please see my comments more holistically and respond accordingly. What’s your overall position on the debate?

  3. >Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context?

    So are all images in newspapers or magazines and model releases aren’t required for those.

  4. >Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context?

    So are all images in newspapers or magazines and model releases aren’t required for those.

  5. There’s a long list of the ways in which Google’s Street View images can be used – good and bad. The more important question is, “Why is Google making these images? What does Google stand to gain?” It’s not art and it’s not news, and it’s not benevolent or benign.

    True, Google has a charitable arm, but Google is first and foremost a for-profit corporation, and Street Views is likely being used to sustain and expand its user-base in a manner that translates to market share, revenue, cash flow, and profits.

    Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context? As such, shouldn’t Google be required to obtain property and model releases when applicable?

    As far as privacy is concerned, my personal opinion is that the way Google is recording the images is not entirely an invasion of privacy under current law. I don’t want anyone photographing me, my family, my house, or my car without permission, but I can’t stop it from happening.

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how the information can be used to defame and or endanger. But can Google be held responsible for any illegal activities facilitated by Street Views? Can gun makers be held responsible for murders? Can Burger King be held responsible for obesity? The answers are never clear-cut.

    We need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications, like Street Views. For the same reasons we require Environmental Impact Assessments and Reports to mitigate disturbances to the environment, the application of new technologies and the media they generate should also be reviewed and regulated before implemented.

    I think an immediate halt on the creation of additional imagery and the dissemination of existing footage is appropriate until reasonable parameters can be established around what is legitimate public concern and welfare.

  6. There’s a long list of the ways in which Google’s Street View images can be used – good and bad. The more important question is, “Why is Google making these images? What does Google stand to gain?” It’s not art and it’s not news, and it’s not benevolent or benign.

    True, Google has a charitable arm, but Google is first and foremost a for-profit corporation, and Street Views is likely being used to sustain and expand its user-base in a manner that translates to market share, revenue, cash flow, and profits.

    Doesn’t that mean the images are being used in a commercial, for-profit context? As such, shouldn’t Google be required to obtain property and model releases when applicable?

    As far as privacy is concerned, my personal opinion is that the way Google is recording the images is not entirely an invasion of privacy under current law. I don’t want anyone photographing me, my family, my house, or my car without permission, but I can’t stop it from happening.

    Privacy issues are more relevant when we think about who and how the information can be used to defame and or endanger. But can Google be held responsible for any illegal activities facilitated by Street Views? Can gun makers be held responsible for murders? Can Burger King be held responsible for obesity? The answers are never clear-cut.

    We need policies and regulations around projects with major social implications, like Street Views. For the same reasons we require Environmental Impact Assessments and Reports to mitigate disturbances to the environment, the application of new technologies and the media they generate should also be reviewed and regulated before implemented.

    I think an immediate halt on the creation of additional imagery and the dissemination of existing footage is appropriate until reasonable parameters can be established around what is legitimate public concern and welfare.

  7. Robert Scoble (post 31) asked the question how exactly one house might be targeted over another using information from Street View.

    This is an interesting problem. Thieves, especially of the roving, opportunistic type, often simply drive around looking for soft targets (open doors, no evidence of security, expensive items in garages, etc).

    What if, and I am just being hypothetical here, a thief were to use Google Street View to find residences with open garage doors, use the zoom to see if there are bikes, camping gear, tools, etc, in plain sight? He could then put that place on his “hot list”; a list of homes whose owners might be overly lax with security or too trusting.

    What if, a ring of car thieves seeking a particular item (a specific make/model of car, or a car equipped with aftermarket rims), were to use the site to locate a prospective target?

    Granted, since the photos only represent a split second in time they are not probably as effective as “casing” in person, but also using the website carries a lot less risk.

    These are just a couple ways in which a street view may help a thief or miscreant narrow a target. Again not anything that likely couldn’t be discovered in person, but it does illustrate the point I believe that a few have alluded to; that there is usually an opportunity to use information maliciously, and that the more information is provided, and the wider the audience, the more likely it is that the information will be used in such a manner.

  8. Robert Scoble (post 31) asked the question how exactly one house might be targeted over another using information from Street View.

    This is an interesting problem. Thieves, especially of the roving, opportunistic type, often simply drive around looking for soft targets (open doors, no evidence of security, expensive items in garages, etc).

    What if, and I am just being hypothetical here, a thief were to use Google Street View to find residences with open garage doors, use the zoom to see if there are bikes, camping gear, tools, etc, in plain sight? He could then put that place on his “hot list”; a list of homes whose owners might be overly lax with security or too trusting.

    What if, a ring of car thieves seeking a particular item (a specific make/model of car, or a car equipped with aftermarket rims), were to use the site to locate a prospective target?

    Granted, since the photos only represent a split second in time they are not probably as effective as “casing” in person, but also using the website carries a lot less risk.

    These are just a couple ways in which a street view may help a thief or miscreant narrow a target. Again not anything that likely couldn’t be discovered in person, but it does illustrate the point I believe that a few have alluded to; that there is usually an opportunity to use information maliciously, and that the more information is provided, and the wider the audience, the more likely it is that the information will be used in such a manner.

  9. it’s a slippery slope heading down towards Google X-Ray Vision, Google Remote Hypnotic Suggestion, Google’s Invisible Hand and Google Time Stop/Rewind…

    it’s all right there in the Advanced Dungeons And Dragons Dungeon Masters’ Guide…

    -srini

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