Google Maps Street View – wow & my thoughts

Google Street View

This is really getting impressive. Instead of just map mode, or even the satellite view, you can now see a street view as taken by a roving SUV. A9/Amazon had similar map tech for commercial streets, but discontinues it at some point. Google (GOOG) has taken this up a notch, and provided a great user experience.

With any new tech there is always an initial evaluation phase and hopefully some course corrections/improvements in the pipeline. There has been a lot of coverage that this new feature creates privacy concerns(nytimes.com). SFgate has a view showing a man attempting to jump over a fence perhaps — but who really know. And a bunch of people have picked up on some embarrassing/interesting photos – laudontech.com and mashable.com have coverage.

Here are my thoughts:

The good:

– extremely useful in scouting out new areas for apartments. I expect sites like craiglist to link to this directly in short order.

– useful for evaluating businesses locations, and any other commercial real estate deals.

– helpful for simulating what it’s like to navigate in a new area. Imagine you were planning a bike ride or a walk. Using the Street View you can really tell block by block what it’s like to go through those streets.

– I use Google Earth quite a bit too, but this on-the-ground angle is extra useful. Maybe this could be incorporated into GEarth down the line.

The Bad:

– Privacy concerns are real. We don’t know how often they update the photos ( maybe once a year ? ), but having your face show up outside a strip joint is a problem on all kinds of levels. For all we know, that man was just parking his car and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A photo like this has no context and it’s at least semi-permanent in the google system.

The challenge:

– We all know that certain things are public, and being photographed in public is perfectly legal. We also know that divorce/marriage proceedings and other official court documents are public, and we want them to remain that way. The challenge today is the ease of accessing this public information. Going down to the courthouse to look something up took effort. Clicking your mouse a few times isn’t quite the same.

Conclusion:

I’m a supporter of all these kinds of services, including finding out how much your neighbor paid for that house. What I do recommend is the following:

1) Proper and expedient recourse: If you are going to put up photos or documents that are public and mistakes will inevidebly be made — make sure the public, and more importantly the individual who may be put in a bad spot, has a way to quickly and easily correct the record. (Update: looks like there is a process for requesting photo removals, and people have had some success )

2) Consider excluding personally identifiable information if it doesn’t add value. A person’s face on the side of the street probably doesn’t add much to the google maps street view service. The same technology that could identify our faces in photos ( I’m thinking the original Riya service for example ), could also probably allow google to identify any face and blur out the persons features.

3) Own your own identity. This is a bit more effort, but people need to own their own identity online – via blogs, social network profiles, etc – so that a search for your name doesn’t bring up some strange public record result as result #1 — but rather, it should return the site that you want it to.

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