Author Topic: Google Is Watching Us  (Read 2144 times)

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Offline pmp6nl

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Google Is Watching Us
« on: May 31, 2007, 04:47:20 pm »
I dont know about this:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2139716,00.asp
Quote
Does Google's new Street View Maps service show us all too much? 
By Lance Ulanoff

Remembered how worried you were that Google was collecting your search habits and invading your privacy? You can drop that worry now, because I have a whole new Big Brother concern for you to grapple with. Google is taking 360-degree images of major cities across the US and tying them together with its increasingly popular Google Maps service, and in some of the photos, you can make out faces, license plates, and more.


Now you can start worrying.


When I first heard about this, I dismissed the concern. Amazon's A9 search engine started documenting street corners and intersections in major cities over a year ago. So I could virtually stand at the intersection of 28th and Madison and see my building and all the adjacent ones as well. There were people in these images, too, but I couldn't make out any of them.

Google maps, however, is a different story—well, a partially different story. I actually love the service because you can start out with a global or nation-wide view and zoom all the way down to the street address of your choice. At each level you get a new, and useful, view. You can see simple maps, complex maps, street and highway info, satellite imagery and local business information. It, like Yahoo Local and MSN Virtual Earth, is a powerful, free service.

I decided to check out the street view and see if things are really as bad as people say. I started by using an area I know well—New York City. This is one of a handful of cities currently covered (though not 100 percent) by Street View. I virtually walked down Park Avenue and then moved to the narrowed streets of lower Manhattan. I "walked" up Church and then landed on Reade street (all intersections show which direction you're heading, and moving forward can be done by clicking in the direction you want to go on the image or holding your mouse down and dragging the image in your desired direction). In the image on the southeast corner of the street, I saw a woman. I zoomed in closer. She was obviously pregnant and wearing a white shirt, black pants, and a gray jacket. I could even tell that she had sunglasses on and was talking on her cell phone. That was kind of creepy.

I decided to see if I could find a way to identify her. I used the PrintScrn key to grab an image of my desktop and then pasted the desktop image into Adobe Photoshop. Then I zoomed in on her and applied an unsharp mask to try and sharpen up her features. No matter what I did, she still never became clear enough for me to say that I saw a "recognizable face." I tried this experiment with a number of images in the New York Maps and never got anything near a real face, no matter what I did in Photoshop.

Fine, I was satisfied that for all the "the sky is falling!" nervous nellies, Google was not in fact spying on us. No one would be caught going to a job interview or exiting a strip club.

No one except for unfortunate people living in San Francisco.—next: The San Francisco Difference >

Turns out that the camera array Google's using to grab 360 views in San Fran is, apparently, ten times better than anything they used in New York City. I'm guessing that New York was the first city Google did and then the company upgraded the equipment for San Francisco.

Now I can zoom in and see a San Franciscan guy (as reported on drudgereport.com) standing outside a strip club. Is he leaving it? Is he just walking by? We could study his body language and expression all day, but we'll never know. But we do know that this guy was there and anyone who knows him will recognize the face. These West Coast images were stunning. I could read license plates and even store window signs. None of those things are at all clear in the New York images.

If New York was first and San Francisco is second, then subsequent cities could have even more to worry about as the arrays improve and images get crystal clear.

Privacy concerns are being raised right now, but Google will not back off from this plan—it's way too valuable. Think about the power of localization. Now you can find the pizzeria in a neighboring community, virtually walk up to it and see if it looks nice outside and, eventually I think, inside. When you click on the tightest images, a menu could pop-up. Certainly Google can sell the whole block on text ads for their goods and services. Multiply that by all the streets in a city and you have, well, another Google fortune.

I guess Google could blur people's faces and other sensitive info. It looks like they've done the same for sensitive satellite images). Yet, I doubt that even Google will have the resources to do this and, to be fair, these images are a moment in time. That poor schlub isn't standing on the street in front of that strip club today. He was there weeks, months, or even more than a year ago. Of course, let him try telling that to his wife.
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Offline pmp6nl

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Re: Google Is Watching Us
« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2007, 04:30:48 pm »
I guess no one else is a little worried.

I personally dont think that it is such a good idea to be able to see people with such clarity, it will surely be used for the wrong purposes.

Though I have to admit its kinda cool.
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Offline Sal Atticum

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Re: Google Is Watching Us
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2007, 09:34:09 am »
What sort of wrong purposes?  Are you going to blackmail people because they are standing outside of a strip club?  It would be interesting if they actually photographed a crime in progress (some beating in an alley or something), but I really don't see this as being an issue.  People willingly post pictures of themselves on the internet all the time, what is so different about Google doing it?  I think it would rather be a source of fame for those who were identifiable--you could probably start a lot of conversations with "Hey, have you seen me on Google?"

Actully, if you had an in on where and when they were going to set up to do the image capturing, you could make a killing on selling advertising on your body and being in the right place at the right time...
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