Miguel Helft at the New York Times did an interesting piece about the blog-drama over Google Street View's launch, and profiled the woman who sent BoingBoing that wild image of her tabby cat Monty hanging out in the window. Some internet meanies called her a luddite, others a "poor deluded cat owner," but…
For Mary Kalin-Casey, it was never about her cat.
Ms. Kalin-Casey, who manages an apartment building here with her husband, John Casey, was a bit shaken when she tried a new feature in Google's map service called Street View. She typed in her address and the screen showed a street-level view of her building. As she zoomed in, she could see Monty, her cat, sitting on a perch in the living room window of her second-floor apartment.
"The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people's lives," Ms. Kalin-Casey said in an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building. "The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged."
Her husband quickly added, "It's like peeping."
Ms. Kalin-Casey first shared her concerns about the service in an e-mail message to the blog Boing Boing on Wednesday. Since then, the Web has been buzzing about the privacy implications of Street View – with varying degrees of seriousness. Several sites have been asking users to submit interesting images captured by the Google service, which offers panoramic views of miles of streets around San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver.
Link. (Thanks Chris Kimbell) Image: Jim Wilson for the NYT.
(posted from the road in central america / xeni)
Also, I swapped a few emails with Ms. Kalin-Casey on the day that entry went live, and forwarded to her some of the funny/mean-spirited responses calling her a privacy nutball or a cat psycho. She wrote back:
I was a little surprised at the follow-up bb-reader response labeling my concerns as paranoid and delusional. It seemed to be written somewhat tongue in cheek, so I presume it was meant to be a funny rebuttal. My post was never actually about the cat, which I thought should be obvious, especially to the bb crowd.
The question is, where do we draw the line between public and private? Obviously, the picture of Monty isn't very good, but who's to say whether tomorrow, Google's camera's won't be a lot better, giving clearer pictures and more detail? I've already seen one post online where the poster's only complaint about Google pics is that the pictures aren't sharp enough. (He wasn't commenting on my pic, but on a picture of his own home.)
The opposing argument claims that what's visible from the street is public. By opening my windows for some much-needed light and air, am I granting permission for my living room to be broadcast worldwide? I don't think I am. I think if I open my windows, my neighbors and passers by might see the cat in the window. That's substantially different to me than realizing that everyone in the world can potentially see into my home.
It's my feeling that we should know what kind of monitoring we're subject to and when. Stores, airports, intersections, museums –there are security cameras everywhere. We've all seen overhead satellite photos for mapping purposes, but when does helpful mapping recon morph into home surveillance? When does it move from a grainy picture of the cat to a high-res image where you can see small details in my apartment? When do I have to choose between sunlight and unseen threats to privacy? It's one thing to be monitored on the public streets of London. I think it's another to wonder if, right now, someone or something is taking my picture through my living room window. Maybe that is paranoid, but it's hardly delusional. After all, it's already happened.
Reader comment: James says,
It's not delusional.
Google keeps adding new stalking features! Streetview is a cool technology, but man — I'm just thinking of abuse victims, witnesses… how is the Google-van supposed to know to NOT watch them?
What about people who already use the Internet for vigilantism by staging mob-harassment?
We have the law to protect us, but can it protect us from the slobbering Neanderthal that is the Internet?
This reminds me a whole lot of the post BoingBoing linked to back in
September . There's a difference, as Danah Boyd said, between shouting
to be heard in a loud environment, and shouting at the same volume when
the music is suddenly turned off.
There's a reasonable expectation of who is able to see into your house
when driving past at the speed limit, and that expectation doesn't enclude
everyone in the world with a web browser. I don't think I personally would
mind quite so much – though I'll see once they start photographing San
Diego – but I can see how someone would get upset about it.
I suppose one way of coming at this problem would be to examine possible uses for such a streetlevel view on Google. Outside of the "wow, neat" factor, I really can't come up with any. Take the concept to the extreme, and see where it leads–
1) Wouldn't it be nice if you could not only get a street level view, but you could e-mail Google, and they'd provide you a link to the picture directly?
2) Then they could do one better, and even get a representative to chat with you on your net phone, to describe hard-to-see details about the area, and the home in question.
3) Better yet, Google could connect you with the home-owner themselves! After all, they'd have the most up-to-date info!
Once you start taking this all to an absurd length, it becomes apparent that this isn't real useful info. If you're not ready to call the person who lives there, chances are, you don't need to know. There really aren't any positive uses of a service like this that I can think of.