Transparency Two: Street View

To add to the discussion of the Transparent Society I started on this blog earlier, I wanted to comment on Google Street View, the technology which allows you to simulate walking or driving down a city street and seeing what exactly is around you through a series of interwoven photos.

Microsoft also has this technology and is working acquiring street views of cities all around the country. I work in GIS at the county level and utilize remote sensing technology (digital photos and LiDAR) on a daily basis. As I mentioned previously, GIS technologies are accelerating rapidly and I believe in a few years most people will be shocked by our ability to model the real world.

Google and Microsoft have completely changed the equation in the field of GIS and the ability of the public to access remote sensing technology (including digital photos, oblique photos, and street view photos). However, once people realized what Google had created with Street View, a few people were not happy. The interesting thing about this reaction is that people were concerned only once these photos became available to the public.

Rather than harming privacy though, Google is performing a great public service. These photos are also being resold to the government and being used by corporations. The same with the bird's eye view on Virtual Earth (this is oblique imagery). Yet, people do not seem as concerned with the government having it as with Google publishing it.

In the future, governments and corporations will possess and exploit this technology. Why should they be the only ones with access to it? The first best use of this technology is to model, understand, and explore our world. However, the technology will also be utilized in perverse ways. Public privacy is better served if everyone can see what is available and not just the government and corporations.

(Of course, Google has a history of reneging on the idea of free access to this information when confronted by the government. Here is a recent example. In the military's defense, it doesn't help anyone if there is street view of American bases but not any other country's).

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