Turning the Electronic Eye on Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-08-01 Print this article Print

=A Murky Issue}

Google straddles the fine line between ensuring privacy and crossing it.

While the company is sometimes called to Capitol Hill to explain how it leverages user data from its search, Gmail and other applications to boost its online advertising tools, Google Street View and Google Earth are striking citizens in the United States and abroad as the most invasive.

For Street View, the company sends out vans to take pictures of residential areas so that users can find addresses online.

This application is part of Google Earth, a virtual globe program that maps the earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellites imagery and aerial photography.

Politicians are still grappling with whether to officially treat these apps as invasions of privacy or tools for gathering useful information.

Privacy is a murky issue. Thanks to satellite imagery technology and the ability to post the images it captures on the Web for the world to see, Google is stuck trying to make sure it doesn't break privacy rules.

Google's own privacy advocates, including Peter Fleischer, maintain that the company is very serious about privacy. Yet other executives occasionally undermine their work.

For example, as the NLPC noted, Google Evangelist Vint Cerf, widely considered the founding father of the Internet, said in May that "nothing you do ever goes away, and nothing you do ever escapes notice. ... There isn't any privacy, get over it."

A single quote offered without context hardly obliterates Google's privacy position, as the NLPC suggests.

Cerf was merely repeating something that former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and other high-tech executives with years of experience on the Internet believe.

The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool with few restrictions. As the amount of information on it continues to grow, so will the number of lawsuits that cry foul over the way the information is used.

This could lead to amendments of privacy laws and other constitutional changes.  


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