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Google’s StreetView – what’s the point, and why are they spying on you?

Posted May 20 2010 12:00am

I’ve no idea what the point is.

For example, looking at Liverpool’s cross-river ferry terminal, it displays about a year’s worth of info (maybe more), in one view. Moving horizontally it goes from under construction behind a high, blue, fence, to finished and operational, in the space of a few yards. That’s absurd.

The view of my home shows the builders hard at work – a year ago. It’s the same with every view I’m familiar with that I’ve looked at – either well out of date, or combining several passes, many months apart in one image, which, as with Liverpool, is so unhelpfully pointless they might as well have not bothered.

The idea, much touted a year or so ago, that StreetView would be a godsend to the criminal fraternity has turned out to be cobblers, so out of date is the information.  Ditto the idea it would be useful for checking out property for sale.

In fairness, it cannot, by its very nature, be other than out of date – all published mapping is (even the satellite views of Google Maps are at least a year old – again, based on sites that I’m familiar with, both urban and rural), and I really have no idea what the point of StreetView is, unless the capture of a moment in time at some point in the past year or so turns you on.

Someone’s bound to pop up and say that StreetView is up to date in London, or somewhere (is it?), but that doesn’t matter, because on the whole, it’s not.

And returning to Google Maps for a moment, there is much of Scotland that is just blank at any usable zoom setting – it might as well be labelled Here be Dragons.

There is a rather more sinister aspect to StreetView, though. It seems that Google’s camera cars “inadvertently” collected data from unsecured wi-fi installations as they trundled around the streets. Inadvertently is in quotes because, along with many other people, I find it very hard to accept that this was accidental. After all, why were the cars fitted with monitoring equipment in the first place? And why weren’t the data deleted when they first became aware of the situation?

When I’m out and about, my smart phone pulls in loads of wi-fi connections with crap security, but I would have to make a serious effort to connect to them – I see no way that could be done by accident.

Google’s Larry Page says “There is lots of interest in Google’s logs (of our data), but no one can prove any harm, at least not that I’m aware of.”

That’s not the point, you mealy-mouthed sod (and can you prove harm hasn’t been caused?). The point is you should NOT have been collecting the data which, according to the Guardian “ include users’ emails and search history**” in the first place.It’s a gross invasion of privacy.

**The cynical might be forgiven for suspecting they were checking on the uptake of Google Mail, and the use of their search engine, information which the email and search history would provide. But, hey, maybe that’s just me…

And, even if it was accidentally acquired (accidental acquisition is one thing, deliberate retention is something else entirely), it should have been deleted at the end of every session, not retained, as it clearly has been. The Office of the Information Commissioner has instructed Google to destroy the data, but they should go further than that, and ensure any future camera cars simply don’t have the facility to access other people’s data, accidentally or by design, and to record it. And if, by any quirk, they do acquire data, they should destroy them as soon as possible. The data sure as hell should not ever be retained beyond the end of the day’s filming.

Nothing else is acceptable.

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