Smile! You’re on Google Street View!

Photo by: Google Maps

About a month ago, Google Maps announced they added nine Alberta municipalities to Street View, an option that allows users to look around a city at street level through numerous still photographs. Lethbridge was one of the nine cities chosen in addition to Calgary and Edmonton, which were the first two cities in Alberta to be included when the Street View feature first debuted.

“Cool”, I thought as I went ahead to the website and plugged my address into the “Search the Map” search bar. After moving the little yellow man to the blue-highlighted street area, I was faced with an eerie mid-afternoon view of the building which I inhabit. I say “eerie” because it felt as if I was a “‘net creeper”, stalking myself as it were. Luckily neither my husband and I nor our vehicle was outside the moment the photos were taken, but that led me to wonder…

I highlighted and erased my address and plugged in my work address at the time (it appeared as though Google came through around June or July of 2009). I wasn’t on the street, next to my car in the parking lot, or walking to the door… but I was found outside, in the back alley, during the 15 minute morning break I went on with a group of ladies – smokers and non-smokers alike.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I felt. Surprised, for one thing. A little excited for another. I remember my husband asking me to stop repeating “Oh my God” because it was getting to be a bit much… but, place yourself where I was… how would you react? Granted the photo was taken from a city street (their car doesn’t go down alleys or into shopping mall parking lots, for example) and we were a little far away, but I could recognize and name every woman present in photo in the alley. If I were to show a stranger the photo, of course they wouldn’t know which I was unless they knew the kind of clothes I wore at work (which were a bit more conservative than most).

Google Maps has come under fire in the past about issues such as privacy violations and being voyeuristic and sneaky with the way they take the photos. I admit, I wasn’t aware the Google vehicle was driving through the streets with the 360 degree camera this past summer. Even after seeing the photo of myself with my co-workers I had to rack my brain to try and place exactly when the camera came around and if we even saw it that day and commented on it.

With the knowledge I have from my journalism education, I know that the photos Google Maps takes for Street View are perfectly legal. You are allowed to snap photographs in a public place without having to ask the permission of people who could possibly be included in a photo. This includes shoppers walking through a packed mall on Boxing Day to random people bundled up on city sidewalks, trudging through piles of snow.

Does it violate ones privacy? No. City streets are a public domain. Does it make me any less weirded out by having my photo taken by the Google 360 camera? No, but Google Maps has been forced to blur images that show people’s faces and license plates due to complaints they’ve received – an action I believe is more for quieting those captured by the cameras rather than an effort to protect privacy (again, the photos are taken in a public area)

For myself, the initial shock of being a blurry image on the Internet has worn off, and I have embraced the wonderful tool Google Maps has made Lethbridge a part of. After seeing myself captured, I have checked everything from my parents house and other places I have lived in the city to just “cruising” around downtown to see if I recognized any faces.

I couldn’t. They were all blurred out.

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