[Update, 3rd April 2009] Since posting this blog entry I have heard that some villagers chased away google’s photo car when it was trying to take photos of their houses. Clearly some people really do see this as an invasion of privacy. I also posted a poll over on deviantART “Do you agree with [this blog post]?”, which received some interesting comments on the subject.[/update]
While talking with my dad last week about various technologies, the subject of internet maps came up. It got me thinking about the satellite imagery used and even the newer street views that google provide. Are these images an invasion of privacy and do they help criminals?
I’m sure there have been many blog posts about this topic around. Indeed, a quick search on google shows several. However, I still want to give my opinion on this matter.
When the satellite views first began appearing on sites like Google Maps the image quality and resolution was poor, with only cities having clear images. Back then there wasn’t really an issue of privacy, as the images were too poor quality to make out most residential areas.
Now, however, the image quality is far better even in rural areas. I live in a fairly small town but even so I can go onto a map site with satellite imagery and view my garden, my neighbour’s garden, or even the garden of someone I don’t know. Here is where the issue begins. Where I to be walking around my town, I would not be able to see into most people’s garden, thus I would not know what is in their gardens and the locations. But with satellite images you can see these things, so what is to stop a criminal using satellite images to pick which houses to rob? The images are kept fairly up to date, enough to know where to enter a garden and how to get to things in it like the shed.
This problem has been made even worse with the newer Bird’s Eye View images that Live Search Maps provide, as with these you can even see the entrances to buildings and whether or not the building has visible external burglar alarms.
I know it is unlikely that people would use the maps in such a way, but it is possible. Even without the crime aspect, I still find myself feeling creeped out by the fact anyone could look at my house in detail online. But what can we do now it’s only online?
Google’s new street view adds a whole new bundle of issues. Personal property, such as cars and bicycles, can be seen on this view, which again criminals could use to target an area for thievery.
I am, however, impressed with the lengths google go to to protect identities in the street views. In their 19th March press release google do mention briefly that they blur out faces and number plates. Doing that in one photo doesn’t take much effort, but when you consider how many photos go into making a 360 degree view and then multiply that by how many “stops” there are on street view, it starts to look like a lot of work.
Online maps are incredibly useful, and satellite imagery certainly goes a long way to improving the experience and adds more things the maps can be used for.
But do high-resolution images of people’s gardens really add any value to the maps? Are there legitimate reasons people would want to look at someone else’s garden online? It would be a lot of work, but perhaps the companies running these map services should consider blurring out gardens and other private property like they do with faces and number plates.
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