Mapping and Privacy Concerns

I recently wrote on the trade off between convenience and privacy, this issue came to my attention once again while exploring virtual mapping. Most people have used Google earth or Google maps at one point or another. These applications are largely accepted by the general public as tools which make our lives easier. Google recently released the Google Street View application to the United Kingdom. Some controversy has been raised over the appropriateness of showing potentially private images from the street level. The majority of those opposing the application believe that street level pictures violate privacy and that these images are being used without the consent of numerous people. These privacy concerns are particularly valid for those people who have been caught partially nude, entering adult video stores, or doing any activity they may not want the entire world to know about.

Since the launch of UK Street View Google has had hundreds of requests for the removal of images. Earlier Google representatives insisted that “99.99 per cent” of faces featured in Street View were blurred. However, recently Google admitted that this had been a “figure of speech” and that thousands of people can be identified. Google claims that Street View is an important step towards people being able to explore the world from their homes, but has this application crossed line in terms of privacy violations?

Currently Google Street View is not available for any Canadian cities. Tighter restrictions have been placed on the construction of a Canadian application, which include the blurring of all faces, license plates, and numerous other privacy measures.

Despite the controversy surrounding Google Street View in Canada, Canpages.ca a company based in British Columbia has recently released it’s own street view program. The program currently includes views of Whistler, Vancouver, and Squamish. Canpages street view allows users to explore residential areas, walking paths, parks, and trails. It also offers detailed pages for retailers in the area, and hopes to expand its views into the interiors of hotels, malls, and restaurants. However, Canpages is also taking additional incentives such as blurring distinctive features to help maintain privacy amongst Canadians.

Convenience Over Privacy?

Recently, in my digital history class, we have been discussing the tailoring of ads, search results, and the internet in general, to the particular interests of a user. Some of the more frequently discussed forms of this personalized marketing include: amazon recommending books, itunes recommending music, facebook targeting ads, and Gmail and Google including personalized ads and searches. This marketing provides users with increasingly relevant and ‘useful’ information, while allowing companies to further expand their advertising and marking techniques. And who wouldn’t want their search results to be more relevant?

Similarly, Google recently announced that is going to allow users to select the ads they see while using the internet. Google is launching an “interest-based” advertising on various partner sites, including YouTube. The idea is that interest-based advertising will infer users interests based on the websites they visit, and allow users to create favorite categories, or specify things they do not want to see ads for. No doubt this is one of the more advanced (extreme?) forms of target advertising out there.

The use of internet searches, and user preferences tracked through cookies raises the question of user privacy. It is possible to opt out of the AdSense advertising cookie, which is used for collecting user information to make ads more relevant. Even with this option of opting out, I wonder how much user privacy should be sacrificed for user convenience, especially if it’s just convenient advertising? Currently the information collected by AdSense is only being used by those companies who have partnered with Google, but what if this information is released on a larger scale?