Street View: the "privy" in privacy

What responsibility does Google have in terms of your "visual privacy"?

What responsibility does Google have in terms of your "visual privacy"? Meaning, should they be "privy" to the junk that is laying about my yard, the car in my driveway, the cat in my lawn?

I've written about Street View before, almost a year ago. Legally, Google can take photos from any street (thus the rather obvious name -- it's not "bathroom view" or "living room view"). I talked to privacy expert Rebecca Herold recently, and she makes a good case for whether anyone photographing your home is really an invasion of privacy.

She says, first off, that the people who had their home photographed did not provide consent. I know as a journalist that I must obtain consent from individuals and businesses before I start snapping photos. It's interesting because, when the Google vehicle passes by your house, they are recording the home for all to see, whether it is in a perfect state or not fit for public display.

"Obtaining consent to use personally identifying information (PII), such as is represented in many of these images, is a basic privacy concept in most data protection (privacy) laws throughout the world," says Herold, a consultant with Privacy Guidance.

Herold says, if someone uses the Street View images to make a business decision, conduct an investigation, or follow some other legal action, an injustice could occur, not only to the home owner but to those living in the area. She says the visual maps -- which allow you to pan around in a 360-degree angle -- could even be used to plan a crime. I also know that terrorist groups have used map imagery to see airport terminal fuel storage locations.

I'm no privacy expert, but I do understand the variables -- what is legal to photograph from the street is one thing, but whether Google might eventually have to address civil injuries is not as apparent. I'm not sure I want my house being photographed.

"The privacy concerns come into play when the clear and close up images of homes, and all their vulnerabilities and even contents in some instances, are provided," says Herold.

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