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Has your neighbourhood been ogled by Google?
On the first day of September, I happened to look out our patio doors, and I saw a motley, pastel-coloured car slowly turning through the small traffic circle where my own street merges with another. High atop the car roof and supported by struts, was a contraption full of dark, circular and unblinking eyes ogling the neighbourhood: it was the Google Street View camera car. As I stood within my home and watched, I felt as if the eyes of the world were watching me. The camera car did a second slow, ominous sweep around the traffic circle, turned north and then quickly veered left to disappear along another neighbourhood avenue.
Google Street View, of course, has a fleet of cars like this invading the world to provide high-definition, 360 degree panoramic views for anyone and everyone in the world to see. Each Google car is loaded with 15 camera lenses, motion sensors to log the car’s exact position, lasers to compute distances within the image field, a hard drive to store the digital data, and finally, one small computer to run all this spyware.
Has your neighbourhood been ogled by Google? Go to Google Maps (http://maps.google.ca/) and enter a local street name. When the map comes up, click on and then drag the little “Pegman” standing on top of the zoom-in zoom-out column. The Googled streets turn blue and a blue dots show where still photos have been taken. Lasso a dot and you can see the picture, or click the Pegman pointer on the street and you enter Street View. You can wander along, clicking to look this way and that -- you can even do a 360 degree pirouette and then zoom in for a closer look, or even “jump” up the street like Captain America. Is your own street on Street View? Do you have anything sitting on your deck or balcony that can be seen from the road? Surprise! It can now be seen from Tuktoyaktuk. Or Tasmania. Or Timbuktoo
Three of my own local roads are all on Street View already, and I’m not happy about it. Google addresses privacy concerns by blurring out faces of people caught by the cameras, and, as it states online, “now you can ask Google to have photographs of yourself, your children, cars or houses completely removed from the Google Street View even where the images have already been blurred”. Blurring, apparently, is already quite enough privacy as far as Google is concerned.
As if Street View Cars were not enough, there are also Street View Trikes, which have already been seen pedaling along the Vancouver sea wall, Snowmobiles – which have recently captured Whistler, and even Trolleys – not the big transit people-movers, but the push cart variety that are going indoors to museums and art galleries worldwide. It’s like some crazy sci-fi movie: the Invasion of the Image Snatchers.
For myself, I’m waiting for my own street to turn blue when Pegman is clicked and dragged. I doubt that the man peering out through the patio door will be seen -- even if the world zooms in for a closer look along our row of townhouses. But what about your home, your car, or your children? What has now been captured or what might be captured for anyone in the world to see? What are your feelings about this? If a Google Street Car ogled you, would you hide your face or get Google to blur your features? Or would you instead happily smile for the cameras and then post about the happy event on Facebook or Twitter?