Oh No! Google Can See Your Cat!

Robert Scoble has been battling some wackos in his comments this week. Lots of his readers (and indeed, much of the World Wide Web) is in a tizzy about the fact that some woman’s cat was photographed in the window of her apartment by the awesome 11-lensed camera used to take pictures for Google’s supremely awesome new Street View addition to Google Maps.

The feature, introduced earlier this week, gives you the ability to view buildings on city streets in cities like New York and San Francisco (just a handful right now, but more will be added). You can even simulate driving down the street. It is incredible, and the perfect thing for city-dwellers like myself who more often than not navigate by sight rather than street sign. It’s also a great way to get a sense of neighborhood without trekking up there - great if you’re apartment hunting, which face it, if you live in NYC, you probably are or will be soon.

The blogosphere is screaming PRIVACY VIOLATION which to me is more than bogus, more than disingenuous, more than hypocritical. It’s also does true disservice to the entire concept of privacy and threatens to reduce it to a non-enforcable absurdity. There are real violations happening every single day. There are things being done with our sensitive personal information that I don’t even want to think about - much less know about. Privacy is an important concept in America, particularly as it exists legally only as an interpretation by the Supreme Court of a few Amendments to The Constitution. Other than in those court decisions (yeah, like Roe v. Wade - gold star for you!), privacy isn’t written down or explained - but it is something we all understand anyway. All of us, it seems, but the people crying their heads off because a kitty was photographed in a window in plain view of anyone walking down the street. Please don’t reduce privacy to meaninglessness and conspiracy theories. We need it. Cats or anything or anyone seen and photographed by a reasonable person with a reasonable camera walking or driving down the street do not a privacy violation make.

Here’s my (long) comment from Scoble’s post, because any minute now there will be a “scheduled” Blogger outage:

I am also suprised and a little more than peeved about the idiocy and hypocrisy surrounding this issue. Dozens of other companies know so much more about us, and do much more insidious things with our data (think ISPs, credit card companies, banks, etc).

And all this uproar about a Picture. Of. A. Cat.

Are you serious? As Robert mentioned the other day, not one of these photographs is illegal. The idea that a picture of a cat in a window (or anything seen by a reasonable person walking down a street) is an invasion of our privacy is insulting to those who care about some of the very real ways that our personal lives might be compromised. Believe me, I’ve seen way worse and more personal (”private”) things go down walking around NYC. I have a pretty good cell phone camera - watch out!

The one good thing I see coming out of this furor is that in yesterday’s witch hunt to find the most awesomely sensitive photos in Street View, the “winning photos” of this hunt have revealed to any reasonable person just how non-critical and trivial this is. Lord almighty - a man standing outside of a strip club! How about the fact that at any given moment in Manhattan there are a dozen people standing in front of a strip club? Sheesh.

You don’t have privacy in public. Simple as that. And you don’t have privacy if you dance nude in front of a window with the light on. Or if it’s your cat doing the nude dance.

There are real issues in the world. This is not one of them. As much as the blogosphere would LOVE to believe that a picture of a cat is *big news* - it’s not.

I hope I’m nude in my window in Brooklyn when the Googlemobile drives by. I’ll “wave.”

More on Google and privacy.