June 12, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Are Google's moves creeping you out?

Are Google's moves creeping you out?
One lazy afternoon, Maer Israel and a colleague ducked out of work to have a double espresso at a nearby cafe in San Francisco.

Several weeks later, the information technology manager at the French American International School was alerted that a picture of him sitting at the cafe could be found on Google's online map as part of the search giant's new street-level photo view.

"The HR manager ran into me in the hallway, and she pulled me aside and...said, 'Do you know that there are cameras everywhere?'" Israel recounted. "Of course, I was a little freaked out because it's the HR person telling me that we got busted having a coffee next door...My mother is surprised I haven't been fired."

Google's recently unveiled Street View stunned many with its photos of the unsuspecting, from a man climbing a front gate to another walking out of a strip club, but it's hardly the first time the company has compiled a massive database of material that some would want to remain private. Indeed, Google has for years been storing every Web search and analyzing the topics of Gmail so it can serve customers with related advertisements.

News.com Poll

An ogling Google
Are you worried about Google invading your privacy?

Not at all.
It's worth the trade-off for the information I get.
Not sure, but Google Maps Street View kind of freaked me out.
Yes, definitely.



View results

But now that Google is serving up images from the sky with Google Earth, creating street-level images with Street View and tracking customer behavior in cyberspace, some are starting to ask: how much is enough? As blogger Michael Rasmussen wrote in a comment about Street View on the Boing Boing blog, "Damn right, it's creepy."

Saturday, the British activist group Privacy International released a scathing report that said the company is "hostile to privacy" and ranked it the lowest out of nearly two dozen major Web sites when it comes to privacy issues.

Google Maps Street View was singled out. "Techniques and technologies (are) frequently rolled out without adequate public consultation (e.g. Street level view)." Google also has a "track history of ignoring privacy concerns," the report said. "Every corporate announcement involves some new practice involving surveillance."

In addition to Google's "aggressive use of invasive or potentially invasive technologies and techniques," the bad grade was given because of the "diversity and specificity" of Google's products and the ability to share data between them, as well as the company's market dominance and number of users.

Google Maps Street View

Nicole Wong, deputy general counsel who oversees privacy issues at Google, argued that the report was inaccurate and misleading, and complained that Google didn't have a chance to respond to the criticisms.

"The allegations in the report misunderstood a number of our products," Wong said. "More importantly, when you look at the actual ranking, it misses the point on a lot of things we do very well."

For instance, the company partially anonymizes part of the Internet Protocol addresses of searchers after 18 to 24 months, while no other company has publicly stated their retention policy, she said. In addition, Google was the only one of 34 Internet companies to challenge a U.S. Justice Department subpoena on Web searches last year, Wong added.

Search engine expert Danny Sullivan sided with Google in his blog Search Engine Land but wondered if Google is entering new and increasingly controversial territory with its latest product.

CONTINUED: In need of a privacy czar?…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
Google Inc., Google Maps, photograph

108 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
privacy
I like Google on the whole. I am on the whole not too worried about the data they have on me, bit I do think they should start making some effort to ensure that you can't certain info about one person on Google maps. In particular I think they should blur people and cars.
Posted by jatos (55 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not going to happen.
It would take to much time and to much money to blur out people
and cars and at time make the photos useless causing new ones to
have to be taken. If you don't want people seeing you do something
then don't do it on a PUBLIC street. Anyone who expects privacy on
a street corner (or any public place for that matter) needs help.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Link Flag
Privacy? How about security?
Not only does Google draw the maps for al-Qaeda, they will provide the panoramic snapshots to aid in instructing their traveling terror cells on the best spots to park that truck bomb with the itchy hair trigger of theirs.

The harbinger of rampant information accumulation and subsequent thoughtless distribution to come. Ah, yes...that's our Wall Street darling sweetheart Google.
Posted by make_or_break (3747 comments )
Link Flag
Hipocrisy
Something tells if it would be Microsoft your (and many other people's) opinion would be slightly different, which leads one to think people are as worried about their privacy as they are about their most hated company knowing something about them.
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
No other company could get by with this
The fact that Google is such a popular company allows it to get a pass on this stuff. Any other company would get killed. Imagine the flames on this forumn if Microsoft or Apple would roll out this technology.
Posted by shoffmueller (236 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google
With MS, it doesn't help that they have a reputation for abusing their rep. Up and until recently Google has had a really good reputation. Providing they sort out the privacy issues they still will.
Posted by jatos (55 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong, Microsoft has it.
Google wasn't the first to have a street level view in their maps. They're certainly the biggest (or least most popular) but definitely not the first. Microsoft already has a feature like this built in to their Windows Live Local map service and has for several months now. The Google privacy hawks tend to have tunnel vision and didn't notice.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://preview.local.live.com/" target="_newWindow">http://preview.local.live.com/</a>
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Not concerned
I'm not concerned about the Privacy issue, but I do think that Google could blur some of the info. Software that could identify people and blur them in the images probably exists, or could be created. Same thing with license plates.

Also, make sure the mapping and photo taking vehicles are well marked. If you see one coming, hide your face! Maybe notifications that the mapping is taking place should be posted in the local newspapers.

Other than that, if you aren't doing anything wrong, why worry about the photos?
Posted by dhrlimited (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not concerned?
I hear that kind of stuff all too often lately: "if you aren't doing anything wrong, why worry".
Shure, a man with a camera standing near my child´s playground, taking photos. But hey, the kids aren´t doing anything wrong, so why worry. Your wife/girlfriend is sunbathing in a public park (here in Europe that´s common) and a few days later you might see her photos at some obscure website, depicting more or less naked people, but hey, why worry, she´s not doing anything wrong.
My point is, there is just too much room for fraudulent use of these pictures (taken without our consent!) to just relax and not worry.
Posted by ABlaeser (1 comment )
Link Flag
How do I get a job with Google
I'm a semi-retired IT professional. How do I get a job driving around taking street level photos? As long as I can map the ski areas in the winter, I'm ready to go!
Posted by dhrlimited (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How do you get the job?
I would think, Applying for it might be a good start!
Posted by Eskiegirl302 (82 comments )
Link Flag
RE
You can goto <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.google.com/intl/en/jobs/" target="_newWindow">http://www.google.com/intl/en/jobs/</a>
and see what the requirements are and where to send your resume.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
I am concerned
I am concerned and I will no longer use google products or its search engine.
Enough already!
So this is how they will get cameras on every street like they did in Britain. Let free enterprise install the cermas instead of the government.
Big Brother is still Big Brother.
Posted by BattleAce7101 (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Doubt any real concern
Your not using Google does nothing save hurt your access to information. Take action to stop the government from doing what you do not want it to do. Do not relect your representatives until one gets in that gets the will of his people and contct them of your needs and wants. Not using an info resource of public records that Google has alerted you to will not so anything to represnt your concern or halt the invsion.
Posted by alt_bob (9 comments )
Link Flag
It's a public area...
What is the big problem here? News cameras have shot scenes found in public areas and then broadcast them, tourists are taking pictures in public area and posting them to flickr, satellites are taking pictures of your house and so are people taking aerial photos... this is a world of information; all Google is doing is making it easier for others to get that information.
As time goes on, information is flowing faster and faster. One either accepts that or gets off the grid...
Posted by wsuschmitt (30 comments )
Link Flag
Jeez people, nothing new
Google isn't posting something that we can't see already. Sure, it is saving moments in time that would otherwise be lost to the hole of unobserved history, but we should all take precautions if we don't want to be "caught"
Posted by okkent (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
The ones yelling about their privacy being violated are the ones I'd be most suspect about. Why are you so nervous if you're not doing anything wrong? Like the guy that was ditching work - newsflash dude, cameras have been around for years. The police have cameras all over the place, satellites have been taking pictures for the longest time, and quite frankly anyone can catch you in the act of anything. It's YOUR fault, don't try to blame Google for doing what everyone else has been doing for years.

I like this view, I just wish it were in more areas. But then I'm not paranoid about its usage; I mean so what? I'm not doing anything criminal and it's not like it's in your house or anything. That's where your privacy begins and ends - INSIDE YOUR PROPERTY. Everything else is fair game unless otherwise stated.
Posted by ReVeLaTeD (755 comments )
Link Flag
1984?
George Orwell 1984 anyone?
Posted by liam04uk (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Domestic Wire Tapping?
Our current administration is doing a far better job at making our country into an Orwell-inspired state than Google.
Posted by Professor Cornbread (51 comments )
Link Flag
Honest question. Have you read the book?
The point of Orwell's book wasn't the idea of being watched, but rather the people being linguistically disabled. In 'newspeak', there were no words for concepts like "freedom", so even if it bothered people that they were being watched, they couldn't protest because they had no language for it.
Posted by mattumanu (599 comments )
Link Flag
Google has been doing awefull/evil things for years
Google has been evil for years, we have just been ignoring it or haven't pieced together the company's history in our collective consciousness.

I first heard about Google when I watch a 60 minute program on privacy and the internet several years ago, way before the IPO.

Google had just acquired the rights to the Usenet. Google them promptly put up every post, without blinking an eye. Not a thought was given about being sensitive to people, for example what about people crying out for help with an abusing spouse? That's recorded forever and on display everywhere...

...No thanks to Google.

Then there was the massive amount of personal information that google proudly displays, no thought at all about peoples privacy. BUT when one of the Google founders was also Googled, and people found his address...and other sensitive information, lawyers were brought in to suppress the information.

...2-faced privacy policies, no thanks to Google

Google introduced sattelite maps. So now every burglar can scope out who's likely rich and who's not. Where's the best escape route... How to get into your house. Not even a thought about privacy,

...Again, no thanks to Google

Google acquires YouTube. YouTube, another company that could care less about privacy or copyright laws. Google only acquires the company because YouTube has the largest customer base, ethics be dammed.

Google gets sued for One Billion dollars by people concerned about the infringement on their copyrights. Only then does Google realize, we could lose Billion or more dollars. So they slowly start a process of digital id'ing material on YouTube.

...Greed without a thought about the consequences, brought to you via Google.

...Organized stealing, brought to you by Google and it's proxies.

So is it any surprize that Google now wants to take a photo of you and post it on the internet?

Why doesn't Google start posting all Medical Records?

Why doesn't Google start posting all credit reports?

Why doesn't Google start posting all driving records?

...

Oh, don't worry, they already have that information, and they are working on posting it to the Internet as soon as the right government is purchased.
Posted by Jake Leone (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google provides information already available
Google provides information already available, but in an easy-to-use format. This is especially true with the Google Maps and Earth:

"...Google introduced sattelite maps. So now every burglar can scope out who's likely rich and who's not. Where's the best escape route... How to get into your house. Not even a thought about privacy..."

Satellite maps have been around for a while, remember TerraServer? You can drive by a house and judge if the occupants are rich, you don't need an aerial shot to do so. And as for scoping out a house via satellite rather than on foot...any criminal doing that is pretty stupid.

Google's mapping interface is one of the most powerful tools...I have found directions (its default function of course), planned vacations, used its API to geolocate blog posts while traveling, projects for classes/studies, for my job...I have never heard of a documented use of Google Maps for criminal purposes.
Posted by Professor Cornbread (51 comments )
Link Flag
Ummmm... Google purchased DejaNews and their Usenet archive... the Usenet content that was archived at the time of purchase had ALREADY BEEN ARCHIVED by DejaNews.
Posted by sjsobol (115 comments )
Link Flag
So Strange...
Is it legal to take pictures of a playground or a park? I guess they are public places...just doesn't seem right. Check out this huge list of Google Street View sightings here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://streetviewgallery.corank.com" target="_newWindow">http://streetviewgallery.corank.com</a>
Posted by Mapper99 (73 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Out in public
If you are in a Street View or Google Earth image, then that means you were already outside, in public, and anyone could take a picture of you, or watch what you are doing and report it to someone else. I don't understand why everyone is making a big deal that their picture was taken while they were out in public. Just like how Google's privacy policies are out in public.

Google has very clearly stated that they will keep your information away from anyone else, they just want to use it to better their products and services.
Posted by rich966 (40 comments )
Reply Link Flag
subpoena
they will keep it away until some lawyer or gestapo trooper comes along with a writ. Suddenly your ex wife's lawyer can find you in a park with her sister. nothing quotes wrong quotes with that, but now you need a lawyer too. Next year when the committe on unamerican activities comes back in vogue, the photo of you on the street corner talking to the commie suddenly surfaces. Wait till face recognition software becomes cheap enough.

Don't say I didnt tell you so.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
Fired over a cup of coffee?
Any company who fires a worker for taking 15 mins to get a cup of coffee should take a serious look at its priorities...
Posted by Professor Cornbread (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Probably not true
I doubt thats true at all, Cnet probably made it up. Its just more exaggerated garbage from Cnet. Cnet and Wired magazine make up, exaggerate and flat lie about allot of things to make their stories more interesting so you will come back to the site more often.
Posted by lowenbrau212 (419 comments )
Link Flag
Wasn't fired.
If you read the article it doesn't say the worker was fired it say
his mother was surprised he wasn't fired. Most companies have
coffee makers in the office so leaving the office could be a
fireable offense if it happens enough. Also what if this guy is in
the habit of taking say eight 15min coffee breaks a day all
before lunch? That sounds like a guy that need to be fired.

Note: I am not saying the guy should be fired I an just trying to
make a point. Getting a cup of coffee is hardly a reason to leave
the office during the work day, unless it is authorized.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Link Flag
peopleless, carless
They should remove the people and cars from the maps, like the cloudless earth arial map. It'll be private, and better.
Posted by bobcode (73 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Expectation of Privacy
Unfortunatly, some of the commentary here shows an appalling lack of understanding. Just because cameras have been around for years doesn't mean that everyone in the world has 24 hour access to your life. A hard copy still photograph captures an instance in time and normally has a limited audience, unless it gets posted to the evening news or the papers. And news photographers tend to be readily noticeable and therefor avoidable while in public. Unless you are a public personality, like Paris Hilton or G.W. Bush, you have a justifiable expectation of anonymity even while in public. With ever present web cams and people snapping pictures and posting them on the web, that anonymity is rapidly disappearing, but the expectations still remain.

It's doubtful that we will be able to return to a de facto condition of anonymity; so we will have to either adjust our behaviors, or change our standards of expectations of acceptability. Arthur C. Clarke's novel, "The Light of Other Days", presents a fascinating vision of what a worldwide society would look like with the total absence of privacy; as well as some of the threats people face during the emergence of such a condition.
Posted by Dr_Zinj (727 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Expectations
"Unless you are a public personality, like Paris Hilton or G.W. Bush, you have a justifiable expectation of anonymity even while in public."
Why is the "average" person justified in expecting their privacy, while celebrities are not?

Especially now, in a world where Reality Television and YouTube have blurred the line between public figures and the common man and hordes of people will file lawsuits in order to get their 15 minutes, it is quite apparent that everyone should be prepared to be a possible topic of conversation or at least a minor subject of attention.
Posted by spm82 (59 comments )
Link Flag
Some people are naughty and do stupid things
They just don't want the world to know that. It really a moral issue within their own self, not with Goggle.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
context!!!
If someone sees a picture of a person walking out of a strip club what would they think? What would you think? He might be a contractor there to fix something, a picture on google of him in that situation would do justice.
Posted by FutureGuy (742 comments )
Link Flag
Not at all
If you happen to be in a wheat field with your wife and her passion kicks in.

This is open land.
If you show it then it will be seen.
If you don't want it to be shown then why do it?

The only use for google earth is for drunk men looking for nude beaches.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
StreetView - It's like the average joe's Paparazzi!
Yeah Paris Hilton, we can have it too!!
Posted by HaveSomeTea (165 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The FBI and CIA can do it!
It's true, we are on camera most of the day. It's just that we haven't been able to see the photos until now. If the FBI and the CIA can view these images, thank God and Google we can see the stuff now too.

Google didn't put the eye in the sky--we did.
Posted by Pete Bardo (687 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is googling creeping you out?
I'm more creeped out with microsoft on how they are shoving off if not taking over the competitor with government backed laws. This is one of them. Spreading paranoia is like CIA stuff and thats creepy!
Posted by jmimperial (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Most misunderstand "privacy"
It seems that the comments in this article and the resulting feedback items reflect what is sadly all too common. The last two generations, ?X and Y?, just did not get classes in American History and ?Civics? or failed to pay attention if they did. ?Privacy? ends when we leave the comfort of our home and enter the public areas of the world; which is just about everywhere outside the home, doctor?s office and the confessional. What we do in public is fair game. And do not even begin to bring up the constitution, our found fathers were worried about troops coming into their homes not who might see them at the race track on a work day. So get use to it folks, the same video camera we might complain about today is the one we will want used if we are mugged tonight and the next photo of a cute dog we take might have someone in it that has snuck off from work.

I cannot help but wonder if all of this concern for privacy isn?t just the reflection of a guilty conscience.
Posted by rwellinghurst (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yah But...
With this street map thing, you can actually see right in the windows of peoples houses! Now if your in your home, and your walking around naked or entertaining people or something, everyone can see that. I call that invasion of privacy. And don't tell me to keep the curtains closed either. My house is my house and there are laws on the books about people looking into your windows!
Posted by Eskiegirl302 (82 comments )
Link Flag
What ever happened to...
Laws [b][u]AGAINST[/u][/b] [i]Peeping Toms[/i]?????? EH? ?:|
Posted by btljooz (401 comments )
Reply Link Flag
of course!!! it HAS to be Microsofts fault
would you mind explaining how Microsoft has anything to do with this article?! They don't own google. Your making no sense, just showing your lack of intelligence and excess of paranoia
Posted by compguru13 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
as a response to Is googling creeping you out?
my bad
Posted by compguru13 (17 comments )
Link Flag
medical center pictures
Why the pictures of the UCSF Medical Center Parnassus Campus
that provides emergency medicine, reproductive medicine, HIV
treatment, domestic violence counseling, etc.? Pictures of people
coming and going from there are not really needed and certainly
not very sensitive to patients who may not want their faces
shown to the world. Indeed, the idea that google vans are going
to photograph people coming and going from a medical center
may discourage some from seeking needed care.

This is a medical center near Google's home, they should know
what it is and be sensitive to patients. This should be an obvious
place not to take pictures. (Also, as a top 10 medical center it is
considered a likely terrorist target which is another reason a
responsible company would not want to post pictures of it, but I
guess if they'll post pictures of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel they
just don't give a &lt;bleep&gt; about anybody but themselves).

Hey let's all go to the Google campuses and photograph
everybody coming and going and create a website filled with
pictures of every googler!
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Remember when...
It doesn't seem so long ago that the new kid on the block, Google was seen as the good guy. And now here he is with all his delinquent mates camped out in your living room.
There must be a critical mass of turnover which turns a company from "best kept secret" into a paria to be avoided at all cost. I don't have a problem with what Google do and as a search engine it certainly seems to work reasonably well.
Maybe it's our fault? We always expect growth and developement. Any company which does something well but doesn't move on from there is seen as going backwards.

As for "considered a likely terrorist target..." How often is the paranoid card going to come out of the pack? If you let these "terrorists" change your life - they've won!

Posting pictures of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel -- how dare they!? They'll steal it's soul
Posted by Jelly Baby (34 comments )
Link Flag
love it
I have a camera with a 400 mm lens
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
Medical Center Pictures - Certainly a Problem!
wylbur said Google was taking pictures of people going in to and out of a medical center. This is definitely not right. If I'm going to a medical office, I do not want Google taking my picture. Think about women who want an abortion. Will they feel comfortable going into an abortion clinic when Google might take their picture? How about a mental health center? Will people be willing to seek help for various mental illnesses if their picture might be shown by Google? What about men getting a vastectomy? Do you want your colleagues teasing you the next day about your manhood after seeing you go into the vastectomy clinic?

Many people have said that we should not consider that we have privacy outside of our homes. Why not? I'm not out doing anything wrong. However, I don't think it's right that Google takes my picture and makes it available to anyone on the Internet. It's none of your business. I am not being paranoid. I just think we need to be more careful and more vocal about groups and governments doing this type of thing. Let one group do one thing ... then the next group will take it a little farther ... then the next. Is this how we, as a society, want to live? I think not.
Posted by amelia jade (5 comments )
Link Flag
Free software, free beer and free lunch...
If people want privacy, they are going to move away from "free" services to low-cost private networks; see
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.kerika.com/2007/06/free-software-free-beer-and-free-lunch.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.kerika.com/2007/06/free-software-free-beer-and-free-lunch.html</a>
Posted by arunk99 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google has an odd attitude
Their attitude is basically "we can do what we want with your copyrighted works, pictures, and habit".

What is astounding is that they have a overall positive public perception.

Well it took many years for people to clue in that MS is evil. Hopefully it won't take that long with Google, else they will own all of us.

What is almost as amazing is that people trust them to store emails of every kind, and they don't mind Google creeping around their computers.

Google is a company that abuses the privacy of countless millions, most of whom don't even realize they are under surveillance. Google is not a benevolent company. They are the new Microsoft, and in some ways even worse then that vile, worthless blood sucking company.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In bed with China
Hey, they love this big brother thing. Have you seen its blocking management for google.cn? No surprise if they blocked this site?

My dad showed me his Google Earth after I read 1984 in my sophomore year. I saw my mom's van parked right in front of Kinko's, obviously a morning snapshot. Dad said, "If they give those technologies, imagine how much content they have to themselves, and others.

Why else would stocks jump 400 points? It's a search engine...Ad space is meager profit.
Posted by fabilitis03 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.