Last night I was using Google Maps to get directions and noticed a new feature, a camera icon located next to each of the steps on Google Maps. When I clicked on the icon I saw a picture of my house!
That’s my house, the blue one on the right. That’s my gold Toyota Highlander parked in the driveway. I can tell you even more, they took this picture the last two weeks of October 2007. How do I know? Those globs in the window they are Halloween Pumpkin decorations my wife and the kids put up. What … we are Columbo and Monk fans, I notice things like that 🙂
So how does Google know it’s me? After a few Google map searches from my IP where I specify my starting location as my house address, it’s not unreasonable to assume that’s where I live. If the New York Times could find Thelma Arnold after AOL released some unsanitized search data, I’m pretty sure the engineers at Google could do it, on large scale and automated fashion.
So why does this matter? Google could have software to analyze the images and suggest advertising to me. They could see I have an SUV and suggest aftermarket parts like Nerf Bars. They could look at my lawn, see it’s brown and suggest underground sprinklers. Looking at my neighbors house you can see an in the wall AC unit, maybe they could suggest central air advertisements to them.
Now don’t get me wrong adding these pictures is very cool, and in many cases very helpful. If you don’t know where you are going, being able to see it before, and spot landmarks, is definitely helpful. However it’s also very very creepy. This has been a problem that has plagued scientists and engineers since the beginning of time. They develop new and interesting technologies without stopping to think about the consequences of those decisions.
I know the people out Google don’t see what they are as privacy invasive, but given the recent disclosure that Google is using cookies and IP much more than they previously let on. I really think as an industry we need to look at these issues, sooner rather than later.