Home > Public Domain Data > Shining a torch on location privacy

Shining a torch on location privacy

A couple of weeks ago the Olympic Torch was paraded through the village where I live.  In eager anticipation of the event, a couple of elderly neighbours, keen to get the best vantage point, asked if I knew which route the torch would be taken along. Deciding that a map was probably the best way to show this, I cranked up my iPad and opened up a map viewer.  The reaction from both neighbours on seeing their respective houses and surrounds in glorious Technicolor courtesy of some recent satellite imagery went something along the lines of …. ‘Oh look there’s my house … hey wait a minute that’s an invasion of privacy, I didn’t say they could photograph it’.

Trying my best to allay their fears about any perceived intrusion, arguing that the information was being put to many good uses, which by the way included helping us find the best place to see the torch, I couldn’t help thinking their reaction was not uncommon for their generation – immediately suspicious and wary of the implications. By contrast, younger generations are growing up today in a world where having easy access to this level of detailed location information is taken for granted. Not being able to see your house on Google Street View is simply ‘pre-historic’.

Location privacy is an issue we discuss in the book. Just what rights do individuals have now with pervasive street view imagery and video surveillance cameras on almost every street corner?  In response to a number of lawsuits from disgruntled individuals and private businesses, Google have argued that “complete privacy”  no longer exists in this age of satellites and high-resolution imagery, although they have made some concessions in the form face and licence plate blurring to protect unsuspecting passers-by and residents. The technology to capture, record and manipulate location information continues to develop apace;  just what legislation will be required to govern the use of that information is still being debated and it is a discussion that will continue for years.  It’s not the data that are the problem, it’s what some people choose to do with them that’s the issue.

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