Google Earth is not Invading Privacy

By: Brock Knapp

With the Street View application in Google Earth, people can now travel around the world, view detailed directions, and visit historical land marks without leaving their computer. The Street View layer is arguably the most fun and useful application, which allows users to view a 360 degree panoramic view as if they were standing in the middle of the street. This unique feature is what makes Google Earth stand out from the other virtual globes. However, several people feel that the street view invades privacy by capturing pictures of them unaware and posting it for everyone to see. Google Earth should not be prosecuted of invading privacy when they are following laws by taking pictures from public areas and blurring out faces and license plates in order to conceal identity.

Several people don’t like the fact that there can be a picture taken of them at any moment and uploaded to the internet for anyone to see. The Street View, although not intentionally capturing people, does just this. People fear that they will be caught in an embarrassing location in one of the Street View photos. One aspect of privacy is being able to control what information is shared with others and what is not. Those that are photographed doing something that they don’t want shared on the internet may argue that there is an invasion of privacy but their argument has no support. Google Earth Street View takes pictures from the street which is in public. Not only is it legal to take pictures from any public area, but no one should be doing anything in public that they don’t want others to know.

­­ The biggest complaint that Google Earth has received from their Street View application is that it has high enough resolution to identify the people captured in the pictures. This could be very dangerous because if people have been a victim of abuse or a part of the witness protection program, then having an identifiable picture and location could put them at risk.  This would be a strong argument if not for the fact that Google Earth has already created a software that scans the pictures for faces and license plates and blurs them. In addition, they have an option where anyone can report a face that is not blurred so that it can be fixed.  This is very beneficial because in case someone is photographed leaving an abortion clinic or adult store, then their identity is still hidden (Lavoic, 608). Google Earth is doing everything it can in order to make sure people can’t be identified in any of their pictures.

Overall, the arguments that Google Earth’s Street View is invading privacy are just a minor issue for Google. They have already blurred faces so people can’t be identified and they are taking pictures legally from public areas. The only lawsuit over privacy that Google Earth has lost  from Street View, has been because the picture were taken on private property. Otherwise, the Street View application of Google Earth is a great piece of technology that provides enough benefits that it should not be taken away due to people feeling it’s invading privacy.

References:

Kelley, J. D.  (2008). A Computer with a View Progress, Privacy, and Google. Brooklyn Law Review, 74(1), 187-230.

Lavoie, A. (2009). The Online Zoom Lens: Why Internet Street-level Mapping Technologies Demand Reconsideration of the Modern-day Tort Notion of “Public Privacy.” Georgia Law Review 43(2), 575-616.

Segall, J. (2010). Google Street View: Walking the line of privacy–Intrusion upon seclusion and publicity given to private facts in the digital age. University of Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law & Policy, 10(1), 1-32.

6 comments to Google Earth is not Invading Privacy

  • Nic G

    Brock, I thought your essay was concise and did not have unnecessary information. The pictures were also very useful and helped me to better understand what you are talking about. Moreover, your third paragraph counterargument was very clear. However, I think you should change your title. It is not completely true that Google Earth does not invade privacy, as implied in your third paragraph. It seems to me like Google Earth could invade privacy by revealing people who are in some sort of danger, such as those in the witness protection program. I think your last sentence could be improved to something along the lines of privacy, as that is the theme of the paper. You also state in your last sentence that Google Earth is beneficial, but you don’t discuss how. Finally, Street View should be capitalized.

  • Erika Lampert

    I think you did a good job of refuting the counterarguments to your opinion that Google Earth does not in fact invade privacy. However, perhaps specific cases or examples could strengthen these arguments. Another thing you could improve upon is your conclusion. Your argument is very clear but I think that you summarize rather than introduce a thought that leaves the reader thinking. While I totally agree with your argument, I do not agree with the statement that “Not only is it legal to take pictures from any public area, but no one should be doing anything in public that they don’t want others to know.” For example as Kelly’s article stated, what if someone was going to an abortion clinic. While this is not something that someone would want publicized, it is not illegal and a very personal, private matter. Overall I think you did a good job of arguing your opinion and think that the images you included were excellent and added to your blog post.

  • Jessie Sheff

    You do a great job presenting your counterarguments and then clearly refuting them. The use of pictures is also always a beneficial addition, and it was a great idea to show blurred faces to help support your argument. One suggestion I have is that you don’t touch at all upon the privacy torts or refer to the readings really at all, and that’s just something you may want to consider. I also agree with Erika that the line stating “you shouldn’t do something in public that you don’t want others to know” is a little controversial and too one-sided. Try to rephrase it… maybe look to to the readings and see how they were able to convey it in a less unrealistic way. Overall, your claim was clear and your argument very convincing.

  • Sean Clark

    I feel that your essay had a very good base and involved your points well. I did notice on the 3rd sentence of the 2nd paragraph, you should put “Some people fear”. I think that this would take out your absolute of all people. In the same paragraph the last sentence that you make is useful, but once again I feel that you could tighten it up and make sure that you do not use absolutes. Right now you state that “no one” should be doing things in public that they wouldn’t want others to see. It stave away disbelievers if you were to put ‘most’ or ‘a lot’. Other than those points, your essay has a great conclusion and matches the thesis you make at the beginning.

    Good Job.

    Sean Clark

  • Hi Brock

    First, I agree that the pictures really helped convey some technical information about the capture and display of Google earth photos that would have otherwise taken more words. Good move.

    I’m inclined to agree with Sean about watching for absolutes. What about the “accidental” wifi data that Google “sniffed” when it was taking these pictures in some communities? What if at the moment Google earth passed by when a spouse was running out of his/her house, pursued by someone trying to beat them? Where does the boundary sit here? You are not ON my property, but at what point does this invade my property?

    Google Earth challenges us to redefine boundaries, regardless of the letter of the law. So how can we reconcile that with the law? With cultural norms about privacy?

  • Can I simply just say what a relief to find an individual who genuinely understands what they are discussing over the internet. You certainly know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people ought to read this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised that you aren’t more popular given that you surely have the gift.

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