Google getting held to higher privacy standard that Microsoft or Amazon

Man, the story about the cat in the window on Google’s new Street Level photography is getting TONS of mainstream press play. Even Ronn Owens on KGO Radio (usually known as a middle-of-the-road calming voice) was furious about the new feature yesterday.

I always thought that Google would get bad PR over some sort of privacy issue, but this? This is the WRONG issue for privacy folks to be worried about. Truth is this isn’t nearly as bad as some of the stuff that advertisers are doing or are thinking of doing with their databases. Let’s go down the supermarket aisle. What does buying a Coke say about you? Not much, right? Well, what if you buy tampons? Doesn’t the marketing world know a little more about you now? How about when you buy AC/DC off of iTunes? Or when you go into 7/11 and buy some condoms? What about when you go to Amazon and buy a book about how to create a great resume? How about when you watch Oprah on TV?

And on and on. What these companies will do with those databases (and the inferences they’ll make about who I am) worries me a lot more than whether you can see the front of my house and/or whether or not I have a cat in the window. Already our anti-terrorist folks are using such databases to figure out who might be a threat to society. Just go into a store and buy three tons of fertilizer and rent a truck and see what happens to you.

But, back to the issue. Truth is Amazon did street side photography more than a year ago (they’ve since taken down A9 maps). Then Microsoft did it on its Virtual Earth site. Heck, Microsoft didn’t just do street side in exactly the same way that Google is doing now, but flew a plane over major cities. Here’s a video I did with Microsoft’s street side mapping team. What if the drug agency was using that photography to find your rooftop marijuana plants? Or, if you were sunbathing naked?

Why no uproar about those things?

Ahh, FOG. Fear Of Google.

Thanks for protecting my privacy. Now, what about the patterning software that marketers are working on to figure out what kind of person I am based on my purchases?

I know why the media (including many bloggers) isn’t worried about THAT. It’s too hard to explain in two minutes. Instead they focus on a cat in a Window. Got it.

At least now Microsofties can’t complain that they are being held to a higher standard than Google is.

Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of her cat from the street but invited a New York Times photographer into her house to take even more pictures? Can anyone spell hypocrite?

88 thoughts on “Google getting held to higher privacy standard that Microsoft or Amazon

  1. Most of the commenters are missing one major point. Us taking pictures of a yard and posting it on the web is not the same as Google doing it.

    For inst, a street side picture i take – however interesting/tempting it is – might reach 100 people. If i were a A-list blogger then it might reach 1000 may be 10000. But Google’s pictures reach hunderds of millions. That is something to worry about.

  2. Most of the commenters are missing one major point. Us taking pictures of a yard and posting it on the web is not the same as Google doing it.

    For inst, a street side picture i take – however interesting/tempting it is – might reach 100 people. If i were a A-list blogger then it might reach 1000 may be 10000. But Google’s pictures reach hunderds of millions. That is something to worry about.

  3. “I would sure be looking to sue someone if my cars license plate photo showed up without my granting permission of ti being used.” – Jonathan, commenter #22

    This is but one of many comments about this whole situation that just doesn’t sit well with me. So if a newspaper or TV reporter were shooting photos or video near a location where your car happened to be parked and your license plate ended up in the photos/video as a result, you would sue them? I doubt it. And you’d have no more right to sue them than you would to sue Google. So far I’ve yet to see any photos mentioned in Google’s new product that couldn’t be seen by me walking or driving (sans camera) past the location. There is nothing private about your license plate. There is nothing private about a cat in your window.

    The day Google sends photographers inside your house to do a 360 pano shot of your bedroom, wake me. Until then, I’m going to continue thinking this whole “OMG MY PRIVACY IS BEING VIOLATED!!1″ thing is ridiculous.

  4. “I would sure be looking to sue someone if my cars license plate photo showed up without my granting permission of ti being used.” – Jonathan, commenter #22

    This is but one of many comments about this whole situation that just doesn’t sit well with me. So if a newspaper or TV reporter were shooting photos or video near a location where your car happened to be parked and your license plate ended up in the photos/video as a result, you would sue them? I doubt it. And you’d have no more right to sue them than you would to sue Google. So far I’ve yet to see any photos mentioned in Google’s new product that couldn’t be seen by me walking or driving (sans camera) past the location. There is nothing private about your license plate. There is nothing private about a cat in your window.

    The day Google sends photographers inside your house to do a 360 pano shot of your bedroom, wake me. Until then, I’m going to continue thinking this whole “OMG MY PRIVACY IS BEING VIOLATED!!1″ thing is ridiculous.

  5. Microsoft spent a crapload of money having PII obfuscated from their pictures. I dare you to find a single license plate in Microsoft’s street level data. Their mapping team told me that the process of going through the images and blurring stuff like that is why their street-level maps rollout was taking so long.

    So I disagree with the argument that Google is being held to a standard higher than Microsoft. Microsoft IS the standard when it comes to respecting peronal information. And I blogged about that point her: http://www.windows-now.com/blogs/robert/archive/2007/05/30/think-google-respects-your-privacy-think-again.aspx

  6. Microsoft spent a crapload of money having PII obfuscated from their pictures. I dare you to find a single license plate in Microsoft’s street level data. Their mapping team told me that the process of going through the images and blurring stuff like that is why their street-level maps rollout was taking so long.

    So I disagree with the argument that Google is being held to a standard higher than Microsoft. Microsoft IS the standard when it comes to respecting peronal information. And I blogged about that point her: http://www.windows-now.com/blogs/robert/archive/2007/05/30/think-google-respects-your-privacy-think-again.aspx

  7. I totally agree w/ #16… There is a huge difference between inviting a newspaper into your house and having the inside of your house photographed without you knowing it or wanting someone to know about it. I’m amazed that Google Streetview can show the inside of the Battery Tunnel and can also show license plates on parked cars. I would sure be looking to sue someone if my cars license plate photo showed up without my granting permission of ti being used.

  8. I totally agree w/ #16… There is a huge difference between inviting a newspaper into your house and having the inside of your house photographed without you knowing it or wanting someone to know about it. I’m amazed that Google Streetview can show the inside of the Battery Tunnel and can also show license plates on parked cars. I would sure be looking to sue someone if my cars license plate photo showed up without my granting permission of ti being used.

  9. “Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of her cat from the street but invited a New York Times photographer into her house to take even more pictures?”

    Yes, completely, I’m glad somebody else noticed this. And I don’t think it’s a “consensual agreement” issue (as MC @ 14 noted), or that the difference is as clear as Kenny @ 16 points out; they could simply have taken (or cropped) her picture with the cat in front of the picture window–instead you can see inside even more of her home in the background. Enough to see she’s got hardwood floors, a green coffee table, a standing lamp with adjustable arm, etc. etc.

    The NYT article even states it was “an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building” (to prove a point?)… so yes, there’s definite irony in the woman who’s become a defacto spokesperson for anti-Google privacy concerns allowing even more of her private life to be revealed to the world.

  10. Gee Robert, you may not want a job threre but the kissing up to Google is getting worse and worse here.

    Here’s a clip from the Front page of a British newspaper last week (http://news.independent.co.uk/sci_tech/article2578479.ece) How LOW a Standard do you want to hold these guys to ?

    In a mission statement that raises the spectre of an internet Big Brother to rival Orwellian visions of the state, Google has revealed details of how it intends to organise and control the world’s information.
    The company’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said during a visit to Britain this week: “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’.”
    Speaking at a conference organised by Google, he said : “We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms [software] will get better and we will get better at personalisation.”
    Google’s declaration of intent was publicised at the same time it emerged that the company had also invested £2m in a human genetics firm called 23andMe. The combination of genetic and internet profiling could prove a powerful tool in the battle for the greater understanding of the behaviour of an online service user.

  11. “Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of her cat from the street but invited a New York Times photographer into her house to take even more pictures?”

    Yes, completely, I’m glad somebody else noticed this. And I don’t think it’s a “consensual agreement” issue (as MC @ 14 noted), or that the difference is as clear as Kenny @ 16 points out; they could simply have taken (or cropped) her picture with the cat in front of the picture window–instead you can see inside even more of her home in the background. Enough to see she’s got hardwood floors, a green coffee table, a standing lamp with adjustable arm, etc. etc.

    The NYT article even states it was “an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building” (to prove a point?)… so yes, there’s definite irony in the woman who’s become a defacto spokesperson for anti-Google privacy concerns allowing even more of her private life to be revealed to the world.

  12. Gee Robert, you may not want a job threre but the kissing up to Google is getting worse and worse here.

    Here’s a clip from the Front page of a British newspaper last week (http://news.independent.co.uk/sci_tech/article2578479.ece) How LOW a Standard do you want to hold these guys to ?

    In a mission statement that raises the spectre of an internet Big Brother to rival Orwellian visions of the state, Google has revealed details of how it intends to organise and control the world’s information.
    The company’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said during a visit to Britain this week: “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’.”
    Speaking at a conference organised by Google, he said : “We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms [software] will get better and we will get better at personalisation.”
    Google’s declaration of intent was publicised at the same time it emerged that the company had also invested £2m in a human genetics firm called 23andMe. The combination of genetic and internet profiling could prove a powerful tool in the battle for the greater understanding of the behaviour of an online service user.

  13. Your last line was dead on. I looked at the paper this morning and thought the same thing. My only question now is what generation is really up in arms about the fear of being caught on camera? God knows it’s not the generation who most likely really uses technology and posts their drunken exploits on MySpace. Like they are really going to take the time and look for a cat. Honestly folks get a grip.

    PS: I was walking to work today and saw a small dog running around in a vacant yard. Good thing I didn’t have a camera. The owner might not have liked people looking…

  14. Your last line was dead on. I looked at the paper this morning and thought the same thing. My only question now is what generation is really up in arms about the fear of being caught on camera? God knows it’s not the generation who most likely really uses technology and posts their drunken exploits on MySpace. Like they are really going to take the time and look for a cat. Honestly folks get a grip.

    PS: I was walking to work today and saw a small dog running around in a vacant yard. Good thing I didn’t have a camera. The owner might not have liked people looking…

  15. I am also suprised and a little more than peeved about the idiocy and hypocrisy surrounding this issue. Dozens of other companies know so much more about us, and do much more insidious things with our data (think ISPs, credit card companies, banks, etc).

    And all this uproar about a Picture. Of. A. Cat.

    Are you serious? As Robert mentioned the other day, not one of these photographs is illegal. The idea that a picture of a cat in a window (or anything seen by a reasonable person walking down a street) is an invasion of our privacy is insulting to those who care about some of the very real ways that our personal lives might be compromised. Believe me, I’ve seen way worse and more personal (“private”) things go down walking around NYC. I have a pretty good cell phone camera – watch out!

    The one good thing I see coming out of this furor is that in yesterday’s witch hunt to find the most awesomely sensitive photos in Street View, the “winning photos” of this hunt have revealed to any reasonable person just how non-critical and trivial this is. Lord almighty – a man standing outside of a strip club! How about the fact that at any given moment in Manhattan there are a dozen people standing in front of a strip club? Sheesh.

    You don’t have privacy in public. Simple as that. And you don’t have privacy if you dance nude in front of a window with the light on. Or if it’s your cat doing the nude dance.

    There are real issues in the world. This is not one of them. As much as the blogosphere would LOVE to believe that a picture of a cat is *big news* – it’s not.

    I hope I’m nude in my window in Brooklyn when the Googlemobile drives by. I’ll “wave.”

  16. I am also suprised and a little more than peeved about the idiocy and hypocrisy surrounding this issue. Dozens of other companies know so much more about us, and do much more insidious things with our data (think ISPs, credit card companies, banks, etc).

    And all this uproar about a Picture. Of. A. Cat.

    Are you serious? As Robert mentioned the other day, not one of these photographs is illegal. The idea that a picture of a cat in a window (or anything seen by a reasonable person walking down a street) is an invasion of our privacy is insulting to those who care about some of the very real ways that our personal lives might be compromised. Believe me, I’ve seen way worse and more personal (“private”) things go down walking around NYC. I have a pretty good cell phone camera – watch out!

    The one good thing I see coming out of this furor is that in yesterday’s witch hunt to find the most awesomely sensitive photos in Street View, the “winning photos” of this hunt have revealed to any reasonable person just how non-critical and trivial this is. Lord almighty – a man standing outside of a strip club! How about the fact that at any given moment in Manhattan there are a dozen people standing in front of a strip club? Sheesh.

    You don’t have privacy in public. Simple as that. And you don’t have privacy if you dance nude in front of a window with the light on. Or if it’s your cat doing the nude dance.

    There are real issues in the world. This is not one of them. As much as the blogosphere would LOVE to believe that a picture of a cat is *big news* – it’s not.

    I hope I’m nude in my window in Brooklyn when the Googlemobile drives by. I’ll “wave.”

  17. “Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of her cat from the street but invited a New York Times photographer into her house to take even more pictures? Can anyone spell hypocrite?”

    Scoble, if you really can’t see the difference between these two scenarios, then you aren’t too bright. Which I know isn’t the case, which means that you’re throwing it out there just to be provacative (or to do more Google brown-nosing). You’ve been reading too much Welch; he makes BS arguments all the time that he *knows* are BS. Don’t you too go there.

  18. “Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of her cat from the street but invited a New York Times photographer into her house to take even more pictures? Can anyone spell hypocrite?”

    Scoble, if you really can’t see the difference between these two scenarios, then you aren’t too bright. Which I know isn’t the case, which means that you’re throwing it out there just to be provacative (or to do more Google brown-nosing). You’ve been reading too much Welch; he makes BS arguments all the time that he *knows* are BS. Don’t you too go there.

  19. “Even Ronn Owens on KGO Radio (usually known as a middle-of-the-road calming voice) was furious about the new feature yesterday.”

    Ronn Owens is a buffoon. This self-proclaimed “moderate” spent months and months advocating war with Iraq. Now he rarely talks about the issue, because to do so would mean admitting he was in the wrong, that the war he advocated is a complete fiasco. I live near Fort Lewis, which just announced that they will be doing monthly mass-services rather than individual services for dead soldiers, so great are the deaths (Fort Lewis alone lost 19 soldiers last month, and for what?). Once Ronn Owens mans up and admits that he was wrong on that issue from the get go (that would mean having the gonads to actually address the topic again), then I might pay heed to what he has to say on a given topic.

    As for the Google issue, aiming and zooming cameras inside people’s homes and then allowing millions to see the photos goes too far. I think it’s actually illegal to publish such photos since the “subjects” of the photos are in the privacy of their own homes. It’s quite different from being photoed in a public area like an amusement park.

    And Robert, save me the tears about Google being held to higher scrutiny. Yesterday you declared Google to be the platform “we” are now using, so let them be under the scrutiny that goes along with that.

  20. What I find amusing abut this whole thing is that she is so worried about her privacy, but then she posts a link to Google maps with her address on it…

  21. “Even Ronn Owens on KGO Radio (usually known as a middle-of-the-road calming voice) was furious about the new feature yesterday.”

    Ronn Owens is a buffoon. This self-proclaimed “moderate” spent months and months advocating war with Iraq. Now he rarely talks about the issue, because to do so would mean admitting he was in the wrong, that the war he advocated is a complete fiasco. I live near Fort Lewis, which just announced that they will be doing monthly mass-services rather than individual services for dead soldiers, so great are the deaths (Fort Lewis alone lost 19 soldiers last month, and for what?). Once Ronn Owens mans up and admits that he was wrong on that issue from the get go (that would mean having the gonads to actually address the topic again), then I might pay heed to what he has to say on a given topic.

    As for the Google issue, aiming and zooming cameras inside people’s homes and then allowing millions to see the photos goes too far. I think it’s actually illegal to publish such photos since the “subjects” of the photos are in the privacy of their own homes. It’s quite different from being photoed in a public area like an amusement park.

    And Robert, save me the tears about Google being held to higher scrutiny. Yesterday you declared Google to be the platform “we” are now using, so let them be under the scrutiny that goes along with that.

  22. What I find amusing abut this whole thing is that she is so worried about her privacy, but then she posts a link to Google maps with her address on it…

  23. >Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that >Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of >her cat from the street but invited a New York Times >photographer into her house to take even more >pictures? Can anyone spell hypocrite?

    I think the difference here is a consensual “agreement”, between the photographer and the photographed. (Or in this case, the proxy of the photographed–the cat owner). It makes a lot of difference whether the images were taken with permission, or seemingly “sneaked.”

  24. >Oh, and does anyone find any irony in the fact that >Mary Kalin-Casey dislikes Google taking a picture of >her cat from the street but invited a New York Times >photographer into her house to take even more >pictures? Can anyone spell hypocrite?

    I think the difference here is a consensual “agreement”, between the photographer and the photographed. (Or in this case, the proxy of the photographed–the cat owner). It makes a lot of difference whether the images were taken with permission, or seemingly “sneaked.”

  25. “did you just say that Google makes it easier to get to street level photography than Microsoft does”

    Not specifically on streetview. But yes on a general scale. But hey, I am not anti-google. I am just anti ‘anti-microsoft’.

  26. “did you just say that Google makes it easier to get to street level photography than Microsoft does”

    Not specifically on streetview. But yes on a general scale. But hey, I am not anti-google. I am just anti ‘anti-microsoft’.

  27. “Translation: I don’t have a chance at Google”

    if you had a chance would you take it?

  28. “Translation: I don’t have a chance at Google”

    if you had a chance would you take it?

  29. “I don’t remember hardly anyone mentioning it when it was the Virtual Earth team”

    I beleive the VE mapping went through a rigorous manual process of ‘un-detailing’ before the 3D view was introduced in local.live.com.

  30. “I don’t remember hardly anyone mentioning it when it was the Virtual Earth team”

    I beleive the VE mapping went through a rigorous manual process of ‘un-detailing’ before the 3D view was introduced in local.live.com.

  31. As for a Google job? That’s funny. I talked with one guy yesterday who went through three days of interviews with Google, got a job offer, then had it rescinded because they figured out he didn’t have a college degree. And this was a famous developer who’d built something really cool.

    Translation: I don’t have a chance at Google.

  32. As for a Google job? That’s funny. I talked with one guy yesterday who went through three days of interviews with Google, got a job offer, then had it rescinded because they figured out he didn’t have a college degree. And this was a famous developer who’d built something really cool.

    Translation: I don’t have a chance at Google.

  33. n00b: I don’t remember hardly anyone mentioning it when it was the Virtual Earth team. Certainly not the nightly news or the New York Times.

    >It’s really not your place to be telling people what they should and shouldn’t feel creeped out about.

    Who are you to tell me what my place is or isn’t? I’m a blogger. It’s my opinion. It CERTAINLY IS my place to tell you. It’s up to you whether to listen or not.

  34. n00b: I don’t remember hardly anyone mentioning it when it was the Virtual Earth team. Certainly not the nightly news or the New York Times.

    >It’s really not your place to be telling people what they should and shouldn’t feel creeped out about.

    Who are you to tell me what my place is or isn’t? I’m a blogger. It’s my opinion. It CERTAINLY IS my place to tell you. It’s up to you whether to listen or not.

  35. Excellent and very astute post, Robert. As Douglas Adams would say, “Don’t Panic.”

    Simply because what Google does is more visible than a lot of the existing (and insidious) marketing tactics out there makes them a high-profile target and the center of this bruahaha. Think about all the information held in marketing databases from very banal, every day activities–going to the grocery store, using your credit card, using your landline, choosing what you want to watch on cable…

    That being said, this is indeed the age in which engineers and pure technologists can no longer relegate the greater social concerns in the business of technology to those expressly in the preserve of ethicists, politicians, or executives. The Maps team, in this case, should take the opportunity to think more deeply about technological solutions, or alternative approaches that can better protect individually-identifiable visual information.

  36. Excellent and very astute post, Robert. As Douglas Adams would say, “Don’t Panic.”

    Simply because what Google does is more visible than a lot of the existing (and insidious) marketing tactics out there makes them a high-profile target and the center of this bruahaha. Think about all the information held in marketing databases from very banal, every day activities–going to the grocery store, using your credit card, using your landline, choosing what you want to watch on cable…

    That being said, this is indeed the age in which engineers and pure technologists can no longer relegate the greater social concerns in the business of technology to those expressly in the preserve of ethicists, politicians, or executives. The Maps team, in this case, should take the opportunity to think more deeply about technological solutions, or alternative approaches that can better protect individually-identifiable visual information.

  37. “At least now Microsofties can’t complain that they are being held to a higher standard than Google is”

    only in online privacy issues.

    yes, Google gets grossly unfair criticism on privacy related stuff.

    But i would think it’s not so much the fact that google has the information. Its about how easy it can make the access to that info.( for inst, this streetview thing)

  38. “At least now Microsofties can’t complain that they are being held to a higher standard than Google is”

    only in online privacy issues.

    yes, Google gets grossly unfair criticism on privacy related stuff.

    But i would think it’s not so much the fact that google has the information. Its about how easy it can make the access to that info.( for inst, this streetview thing)

  39. Um, because the picture *wasn’t* of her rooftop, or someone sunbathing outside. It’s a picture through her window.

    It’s annoying how you keep telling people that this is the WRONG thing for people to be bothered by. It’s really not your place to be telling people what they should and shouldn’t feel creeped out about. I know this concept is foreign to you, but a lot of people aren’t looking for a spotlight 24 hours a day.

    I remember people bringing up privacy issue with the detail you could see in MS’s Virtual Earth, so I don’t know what you’re on about there. Fear of Google? You’re really trying too hard to land a job there…

  40. Um, because the picture *wasn’t* of her rooftop, or someone sunbathing outside. It’s a picture through her window.

    It’s annoying how you keep telling people that this is the WRONG thing for people to be bothered by. It’s really not your place to be telling people what they should and shouldn’t feel creeped out about. I know this concept is foreign to you, but a lot of people aren’t looking for a spotlight 24 hours a day.

    I remember people bringing up privacy issue with the detail you could see in MS’s Virtual Earth, so I don’t know what you’re on about there. Fear of Google? You’re really trying too hard to land a job there…

  41. Christopher: truth is the press and bloggers alike mostly pick on the entity that sits on top. Google used to be the underdog, now it’s the top dog so the PR is shifting (fairly or unfairly).

    I bet that this is all helping out Google anyway. After all, now everyone went to Google Maps to see if their privacy was being infringed on and probably discovered that Google Maps is pretty darn cool. Mapquest still has most of the market. I bet they lost some yesterday.

  42. Christopher: truth is the press and bloggers alike mostly pick on the entity that sits on top. Google used to be the underdog, now it’s the top dog so the PR is shifting (fairly or unfairly).

    I bet that this is all helping out Google anyway. After all, now everyone went to Google Maps to see if their privacy was being infringed on and probably discovered that Google Maps is pretty darn cool. Mapquest still has most of the market. I bet they lost some yesterday.

  43. Higher standard? Hah, they been held to no standard (‘do no evil’), as all the bloggers were ‘pretty colored balls’ giddy over the Google Noise Juice and Ad Sense chinks. But that’s starting to wear off eeven with the true believers…as well it should. Trust no one.

  44. Higher standard? Hah, they been held to no standard (‘do no evil’), as all the bloggers were ‘pretty colored balls’ giddy over the Google Noise Juice and Ad Sense chinks. But that’s starting to wear off eeven with the true believers…as well it should. Trust no one.

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