Google Street View debuted almost four months ago, and has already landed in legal trouble. Though really, there shouldn’t be much surprise that taking pictures of people without their permission has raised some major privacy concerns. Google has already dealt with some of them by implementing a a system so that images can get flagged and taken down, but of course as soon as the site launched, so did websites devoted to re-posting amusing pictures found there. So even if you do find that picture of yourself sunbathing in your underwear on your own balcony on Google Street View and ask them to remove it, by that time it’s probably already making the rounds on the web.
Of course, recently Google has encountered something more concrete than privacy in general: trespassing. One of their camera cars drove right up someone’s driveway, past a “No Trespassing” sign and a guard dog, and took pictures that were posted on the website. The owner of the house is not happy. Google’s defense: well, if cars turning around in driveways or UPS delivery trucks don’t get in trouble, then why should we? Forget the legal analysis; this doesn’t even pass the common sense test. If I needed to turn around in a driveway, I probably wouldn’t pick one with a big “No Trespassing” sign posted out front, not to mention that I certainly wouldn’t be taking pictures once I got up there. And delivery vehicles are invited there by the house owners.
One point that Google makes is a good one–a great deal of the privacy that we think we enjoy is indeed an illusion. Still, it seems to me that we need to draw a line somewhere, and if it’s not at that “No Trespassing” sign, then where is it? All I know is I won’t be sunbathing on my balcony anytime soon.
So my question to you is: how much privacy are you willing to sacrifice for cool technology like this?