Sunday, October 4, 2009

"I want to opt out of Google's Sattelite View"

The other night a friend said that. She wants to be in her back yard in any state of (un-)dress and not worry about peeping googlebots in the sky or for that matter the neighbors. It's clearly an invasion of expected privacy when satellite services take pictures of every square inch of the planet. So let's ponder this for a moment..

The times, they are a changing.. eh? New advances of technology come routinely enough. Some of them dramatically challenge the preconceived notions we have. For example cell phones have made it routine to talk to apparently no-one whereas in earlier times we'd have thought someone nuts if they were carrying on a conversation with the air around them.

Taking pictures from satellites has been going on for decades and has only been getting better and better. What's new here is that Google and other services have made the images available on a massive scale to everybody. That's all.

There's an interesting principle about the right to photograph things. As I understand it (in the U.S.) the right to photograph is that if you are able to stand on public property and see something then you have the right to photograph it. In essence I think satellite imagery is taking that to an extreme. Satellites are clearly on public property (outer space) and they are taking pictures of things people could plausibly see if they were in outer space. That isn't too much of a stretch is it?

At issue isn't just satellite imagery, there is also airplane based imagery. In a few years we can expect unmanned air vehicles to be approved for use in the U.S. and perhaps there will be services flying UAV's around the country for the same purpose that satellites are used today.

Which isn't to say that my friend isn't out of line. She is having a very perfectly normal reaction. While I share her concern I'm simply being a realist about it. Technology has created this airborne photography service which serves many purposes and one of them is a massive invasion of privacy.