Warning: Google knows the street where you live

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This article appeared in the 18th August, 2008 issue of CRN magazine.

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Warning: Google knows the street where you live
There it is, right there on the Internet for the entire world to see: my shame. I’m a disgrace
to my neighbourhood, and can probably never show my face on the Internet again.

So much for that YouTube video of me miming along to “Daydream Believer” in my pyjamas. But it’s the Internet’s loss really.

The other day a colleague of mine discovered that his father could be seen going down the steps at the side of his house in Google Maps’s “Street View”. I have to admit I’d never bothered to glance at Street View before that, so I checked it out.

Sure enough, there, next to a house I’d never seen before, was the blurry figure of what might have been a human, potentially going down some stairs.

It is, I must say, something of a Rorschach experience.

Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, so I went to see what blurred transgressions of privacy might be visible at my house.

And oh the shame. The bins are out. Sitting there in the street with their lids hanging open like fat, green baby birds waiting for mother to return with a worm.

Sure, you might say, the bins are out. So what? Everybody puts their bins out.

But check next door. No bins there. And the other side? No bins there? Go right down the street and you’ll find not another house with bins not safely stowed in their yards.

Judging by the fact that the shops a little way down the street are closed save for the newsagent, which is in the process of closing up, I’d say Google’s spymobile passed my house about 10am on a Saturday. Bin night is Thursday.

Oh, the shame.

I have to admit, though, it’s kind of cool to get the multiple views of my car, which is parked in the street, right there on Google. You could check whether there’s anything worth stealing without even leaving your home (don’t bother, there isn’t).

Naturally, I then went to check out whether any of my extended family had left their bins out, too – then I could at least blame genetics – and I discovered a weird thing.

My father’s house is well-shielded from the street by a mature garden, so his privacy is assured. But guess what’s in the driveway?

My car – apparently in two places at once.

Oh hang on. I also checked my mother-in-law’s house. Guess what’s across the street? One familiar-looking, rather weathered Volvo.

I know a lot of privacy advocates have been getting up in arms about Street View, really it’s a lot of hooey. The front of your house doesn’t count as “private”. If I can see it walking past in the street in real life, what difference does it make if I can see it on a web page? Wait for Google X-ray (patent pending), then get worried.

Of course, if you discover that Google is stalking you, that’s another thing entirely.

Matthew JC. Powell wrote this column wearing a Google-proof foil hat. Send encoded messages to mjcp@optusnet.com.au
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