Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dude, where's my safe space gone? Google mapping my (in)security

Today I'm not happy with Google. They've made my little home, which I had alsways felt was fairly invisible, and safely so, viewable by the entire world.

Yesterday I mentioned the way continuing technological developments are making it easier to carry out surveillance of people's daily activities, which renders many people vulnerable to control by authorities. I also referred to Michael and Michael's (2006) idea of the "cool" factor, which means large numbers of people are happy to put their personal lives on view in publicly accessible digital spaces like myspace and youtube.

Well, as most people realise, today Google Street View for NZ went live, with many people welcoming it, and some feeling cheated if their home isn't visible (like a lot of the people commenting on Russell Brown's blog). Others have concerns about privacy issues (as shown on TV3 news tonight).

As soon as I heard this images were being collected for Google Street View I was uneasy. I am a (no longer young) woman who lives alone in a very nice, secluded space amongst some trees and hidden away from the street. This has given me some pause with respect to my personal safety, especially when home alone at night. However, the place is within my price range, is in a beautiful spot, and my nearest neighbours are pretty close. But, more importantly, my sense of security has always been aided by my knowledge that few people know that my place even exists.

So, today I went to check Google Street View, in their maps section, to see exactly what it showed of my living space. Obviously as I can't be seen from the street, my home is not on Street View, and I'm very pleased about that. However, I did discover that my place is visible on the Satellite view. This really p***ed me off. A few years back when I first checked Google Earth, that level of detail didn't exist for my area. So, even though I had to look hard to work out which geometric space was my roof, I wonder how much more visible my home will become in the future. It feels like gradually encroaching surveillance of my personal space.

The TV3 News items said people could report any privacy concerns to Google, through a clickable link at the bottom of the Street View images. That option doesn't seem to be available for Google Satellite maps. Furthermore the links to information on Google's privacy policy didn't readily expose anything relevant to my concerns.

So I used the contact link and emailed Google. But I'm not holding my breath that they'll be interested in my concerns, or that they'll get back to me any time soon.

But surely such surveillance does raise both security and privacy issues, especially for women at home alone, and others amongst the more vulnerable in society. And how much longer before such technologies of surveillance develop so that we all perform our entire lives on a world wide Big brother set?

Furthermore, it seems to me like an invasion from a distant and foreign place. Google is a US company, although I guess they have offices in NZ. Presumably they are also making money from putting our personal and, for some of us, once safe spaces, on view to the world.

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