You know I’ve ranted and raved about Google Street View before. If not, go here for a start. Google of course has technology that will blur a face or licence plate number but the Google van still patrols streets and areas snapping away despite Privacy International lodging a complaint. Many people in the UK joined that complaint since they felt images led to identifying specific people. One woman for instance moved away from a particular area to escape a violent partner only to find she was recognisable by said partner in an image snapped by Google Street View outside her new home. And residents near Milton Keynes (UK) recently blocked the driver of a Street View car when he started taking photographs of their homes saying the service was “facilitating crime”. Street View is now in nine countries and Google wants to expand the service into Europe.
But seems Greece is saying NO to Google. The Hellenic Data Protection Authority has banned Google from expanding Street View in the country until Google can cough up satisfactory information about how long images will be stored on Google’s database and what measures Google will take to make people aware of privacy rights. Meanwhile the Japanese, who are very respectful of privacy, are also giving Google a hard time and forcing them to reshoot all images taken in that country. And it will reshoot by lowering Street View cameras by 40 cm (16 inches) following complaints of invasion of privacy because cameras were able to shoot images showing private gardens and homes.
Google will try to accommodate by blurring images or lowering camera angles but the issue to me is this – this is private exploitation of public space or a public good. And the law isn’t clear on this as yet. The argument is that what’s in public space is fair game, yet if I roam the streets of Sydney as I have done many times with my camera, I get hauled aside and asked questions about what I’m taking photos of and why. I have even been abused by a man for taking a photo of a public building (a library) and he was just on the street and came over to abuse me.
In the UK, a well-known London photographer, who was going about his business of taking photos of London life, was hauled off by the police under Section 44 (Stop & Search Powers) of the Terrorism Act 2000. So why is it okay for Google to roam city streets and country laneways snapping photos showing homeless people outside a shelter; causing embarrassment and distress between a couple when a woman caught her cheating husband out; showing a man being sick in the street; or a man entering a sex shop in London? I’m sure if I took a photo of any of these people in these situations, my ass would be hauled off by the cops or I’d be abused by the people whose private circumstances I was attempting to capture on an image.
Seems to me that the Google business model is if you’re in public, tough we are going to exploit it. I am pleased to see Greece asking questions and Japan causing Google to adapt Street View to respect privacy concerns. Now, if the law would just catch up and redefine what can and can’t be done in public space when it comes to private citizens, I’d be very very happy.