There has been much ado over the past few days about a new Google maps feature. It's called "Street View" and rather than using virtual images of landmarks along the road, it uses actual photographs to give people online a 360-degree view of the environs. Well, not just the environs–people too. And therein lies the problem.
Immediately, desk potatoes posted links to Google Street Views that revealed women sunbathing, apparent burglars, children, men ogling (or should it now be "googling") the posters outside of a strip club, battered women entering shelters, and one very miffed cat. What about our privacy!? screamed many. (What about all we already know about stalking, identity theft, etc., I wondered.)
It's an understandable concern (unless you're as unreflective and lacking in intellectual acumen as Scott McNealy), and one that Google immediately ducked. The company's position is simply, it's legal (these are public places) and if you don't like it, file a complaint and maybe we'll consider taking the photo off line. It's an amateurish response, especially coming from such a large company. It reveals a general lack of expertise and knowledge on Google's part, something the company would do well to address.
There are well understood policies and guidelines for those of us in the broadcast and print media business regarding how, when, and why we use images. On TV, for example, many organizations I work for have a strict policy about showing any images of children (you need parental consent in most cases), and there's a professional ethic about using pictures of people arbitrarily. That's why whenever CNN uses b-roll for the umpteenth story on obesity in America, you only see people's bodies waddling down the street and not their faces. (I could do without the body shots as well, quite frankly.)
Speaking of expansion, as Google moves into areas where it has no previous experience, the company would do well to seek out the council of professionals. It could have, for example, set up basic guidelines about Street Views before it just put it online with about as much deliberation as a teenager uses to post a Facebook entry. (It's a simple matter, for example, to digitally remove identifiable people from images using an automated program.)
Of course, very cynical readers out there will submit that Google dosen't make such mistakes due to teenage brain chemicals. The company does it on purpose to get more press coverage. I certainly hope not. It would be awful to be covering some murder next week just because a crazed man found his ex-wife on Street Views.
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PS: The answer to the question in the caption above is that the photo isn't a violation of the kinds of guidelines professionals use because I was careful not to include any children, exhibitionistic neighbors, or cats in the shot.