The New York Times’ Miguel Helft has a piece this morning on the privacy implications of Google’s Street View. I found this picture of a Civic Hybrid parked near Google headquarters the other day. You can clearly read the “I (heart) 51 MPG” vanity plate.
License plates are among the possible privacy concerns Helft cites:
There was the picture of a clearly identifiable man standing in front of an establishment offering lap dances and other entertainment in San Francisco. The site LaudonTech.com showed an image of a man entering a pornographic bookstore in Oakland, but his face was not visible.
Others pointed to pictures of cars whose license plates were clearly readable. One pointed to images captured inside the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a controversial location for photography in this high-security era. On Lombard Street in San Francisco, various tourists who had come to photograph the famously curvy street were photographed themselves.
He notes that Google worked with the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence to remove pictures of shelters.
I think the privacy issues here are limited. The images are devoid of most context. You don’t when or why someone was in a particular place. From the picture above, all you can tell is that someone who drives a Civic Hybrid with the plates “I (heart) 51 MPG” parked near Google.
But you could get the same information (and more) driving down the street.
As it turns out, I found the same car on flickr. That picture includes a time stamp. (It’s possible the two were taken the same day; a black Acura TL is parked in front of it, just like in the picture above.)
Still, from a privacy standpoint, I prefer the fuzzier images that appear in Google’s Street View outside the Bay Area. Google did its own imaging in the Bay Area and licensed images from Immersive Media for other markets. In New York, I had a much harder time making out faces or signs. The pictures are clear enough to get a feel for an area without the high level of detail you find in San Francisco.