face blur

Street View.

Originaly posted 28th March 2009

Street View has been released in the UK. After years of planning the Google Vauxhall Astras toured the country’s 27 major cities (although you have to question Dundee and Scunthorpe). As well as building up a photographic record of our urban jungles, it promises increased Google Map usability and engagement.

Not only can you now view the neighbourhood surrounding that dream house you’ve just viewed on rightmove, get a bearing on where you need to be for that all important job interview, get a more honest perspective of that restaurant you’ve just booked a table at for the first time, but you can spend hours of endless fun trying to spot street arrests, people vomiting after one too many and spying on supposed deviants exiting adult bookshops. For those caught in compromising shots the technology comes with automatic face blur, but because this isn’t always 100% accurate there exists a face or car registration plate alert for those concerned about privacy. If you are worried about stalkers, the bogey man or nasty types armed with swag bags casing your joint you can demand that you house or office virtually disappear overnight.

Four days after its release on 22nd March I heard the comment “when was it ever the case that you had to opt out of your image appearing on the web?” Very sadly on the same day Jade Goody died and I could not help wonder when was it ever the case that our celebrity obsessed society wasn’t interested in it’s 15 seconds of fame? My brother-in-law was caught near bins outside his Edinburgh apartment and was so pleased he facebooked his achievement for all too see. I for one was well impressed! Don’t get me wrong, like most sane individuals, I too am concerned about our ever growing “big brother” dressed up as an anti-terrorist dark angel infiltrating our everyday actions from cctv, email and mobile phone records, satellite tracking and god knows what else they have invented in underground nuclear attack-proof labs that we could only ever hope to fathom. But hey, you have to marvel at the brilliance of the idea and its execution.

The technology has been around since 2007 and first appeared in the USA, France, Spain and Japan (I toured the backstreets of Tokyo last summer and it didn’t cost me a yen. Only a visit to Yo Sushi for lunch would have completed the experience). Apart from men leaving strip clubs, protesters at an abortion clinic, sunbathers in bikinis, cottagers at public parks, parents hitting their children, males picking up prostitutes, and people engaging in activities visible from public property, it has been generally well accepted.

My biggest concern which fewer people have mentioned (apart from the killing of a deer by a google car in New York state) is the technology and control Google has wielded for some time. Not only have they been deciding what information is being given to us from the results of our web searches for the last decade, but have been holding a record of these, something highlighted in its Chinese operations. Although Google argues that its kowtowing to the Chinese government in censoring its search results are improving transparency it cannot be easy to be the company that set out with the motto “don’t be evil”. Especially now!

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