Google's 'Street View' map service is the latest Web movement to stir controversy, and just one more in a long line of accusations that the Internet is invasive of privacy.
Last September we saw the case against Jason Fortuny, who deliberately used the Web (more specifically, the Web site Craigslist), to publicly humiliate otherwise innocent people. We regularly see gossipers use blogs to expose secrets about people they know, don't know, have heard of, heard mention of, all the while hiding behind a pseudonym so as to deter unwanted attention from themselves.
Elinor Mills at CNET News.com last month wrote about the EFF's Kevin Bankston being discovered as a secret-from-his-family smoker, all thanks to Google's travelling van of photographic privacy invasion.
One could argue that Google, whose motto is 'Do No Evil', had previously advised Bankston not to smoke and hide it from his loved ones. Hiding the habit could be seen as a form of deception, therefore evil, and therefore he only had coming from Google what he deserved. Of course, this likens Google to the omnipresent, omnipotent, God-like super-being that rules all, knows everything and judges everyone. This, naturally, is a discussion for another day.
The fact that Google patrols the streets taking photos arbitrarily of towns, roads and locations, doesn't mean Google is invading privacy any more than the average citizen. Humans are the most curious of all, and with the millions of mobile camera phones in our pockets we have the potential to stir up a heck of a lot more problems for members of the EFF, the angst-ridden teenager on the street corner, the broken shell of a pop star or politician, than Google could ever do. Google simply provides tools that, just like curiosity, gossip and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, can cause upset.
Until people either learn not to be 'evil', or learn to close the curtains, no-one should be chastised for spending millions of dollars making it easier for the lost 26-year old girl in San Francisco at night, to find her way safely to the nearest taxi rank or train station.