Friday, April 03, 2009

The cameras are at the gates!

The unveiling of Google StreetView UK is being met with that uniquely British mixture of outrage, amusement and derision that I can never quite get right (much like the intricacies of the English language I suspect, but I digress). On Wednesday the village of Broughton in Buckinghamshire blocked the StreetView car from entering the town because of concerns that it could be used by burglars to check out houses. A villager saw the car approaching and quickly alerted his neighbours, who promptly blocked the van from coming into town.

I wonder who is in the right here legally speaking. Does Google have the right to circulate around town taking pictures? Have the neighbours the right to block the van from entering the village? My instincts tell me that Google would have the right to circulate in a public road, but this is an area of law completely alien to me.

What has surprised me more than the level of coverage is the clear opposition to Street View from privacy advocates, to the extent of threatening to sue Google. I know that there are potential privacy issues, but really, aren't people taking things too far? I have found Street View extremely useful, helping me find a restaurant in London and to identify a place where I will be speaking later today. Could I have done those things without Street View? Sure, but knowing where you're going in advance is a great advantage, particularly if you're running late. I personally think that the benefits greatly outweigh the annoyances and privacy concerns.

Needless to say, there are hundreds of amusing stories developing as we speak. Fred Goodwin's house was supposed to be blanked out, but the next-door neighbour's home was mistakenly removed instead. There is also a divorce in the making, as a woman found out that his husband had been cheating on her when she saw his car in front of his mistress' house. The mind boggles.

I for one recognise potential privacy issues, but I am delighted by the technology. And yes, I have already wasted some time simply clicking on the arrow. It is strangely addictive.

Update: Thanks to Jac for pointing out that the divorce story in The Times is a hoax.


Mathias Klang said...

Check out this great fake photo of the blocking :)

Joseph said...

True - why did we not get this level of rabble rousing when Ross Anderson released the Database State Report?