Google Street View controversy reveals our hypocrisy

Analyst Opinion – As Google-logoed vehicles carrying spacey-looking cameras on their roofs fan out across the globe to snap comprehensive photo mosaics of major cities, Google Street View opponents in the United Kingdom have formed human chains and online protests to keep the privacy-busting cars out. But then we know that, thanks to the Internet, privacy no longer exists anyway. So why complain about Google?

I’m as big a fan of privacy as anyone else – and I’ll be the first one to whine, loudly, if a picture of my sorry self shot through my kitchen window makes it onto the Internet without my prior knowledge. But the privacy cat is already out of the bag, largely thanks to the creeping influence and growing sophistication of the Internet – and it isn’t entirely fair to solely blame Google for letting it out. If we’re looking for someone to blame for the slow-but-inevitable erosion of privacy in today’s online world, we should look no further than ourselves.

When Google introduces a neat new – and often free – service, we hardly bat an eye as we fill in whatever personal info the company wants before hurrying through the acceptable use/legalese and clicking the “I Accept” button. We willingly upload every last bit of personal information to Facebook, then make “friends” with everyone we know to spread said personal information far and wide. For those of us addicted to Twitter, we tweet our followers precisely because we want more people to know more about us.

So we want to become ever more popular without any annoying consequences gumming up the works. We seem to want to be able to reach out and touch others, but woe is the company that tries to reach out and touch us.

We can’t have our privacy cake and eat it, too. We can’t shout news of our everyday lives from the rooftops and then join our pitchfork-carrying neighbours to run the Google Street View cars out of town. For the ability to virtually walk down the street of a city we’d like to visit, work in or move to, it’s only fair to expect someone else to have the same right to virtually walk through ours.

I know, it makes burglars’ lives easier. Now they can scope out a neighbourhood from the comfort of their own home. And heaven forbid you happen to be on the street with your mistress when the Google car drives by. If you’re a criminal, you’ll find new and creative ways to rob us either with or without Google’s help. And if you’re cheating on your spouse, maybe it’s a good thing that Big Brother reins you in a little.

Either way, Google, in deference to increasingly stringent privacy laws in the countries where it’s introducing its service, has implemented a fairly straightforward opt-out process. If you find yourself in a Google Street View scene and want out, fill out a simple form and it’ll soon be history.

To have acceptable levels of privacy, we need to control where and how information about us is shared. Google’s services allow just that. It’s time to stop vilifying the company for violating something we’re perfectly willing to violate on our own.

Carmi Levy is a Canadian technology analyst and journalist covered with scars from his years leading IT help desks and managing software development projects for big bad insurance companies. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.