Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Note to Google - Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It Right

Google Maps has come to my home town. At some point, in recent days, their photo van must have crawled up my street and took pictures. This was noticed by the local media which reported on it. Out of curiosity, I looked for my own house and there it was.

This was rather disconcerting. There in full view of the world was my house with a car in the driveway. Exposed to the entire world without my permission. A few things bother me about this. One, it does feel like an invasion of privacy. It's weird to have people taking pictures of you and posting them. It's not the same as being at a public event and being in the newspaper. It's plain creepy to think that these people are taking pictures of every house on my block. Big Brother is not always the government. Just look at Google Health and tell me it doesn't give you the creeps. This certainly does.

The second thing I don't like is not being asked. I am making the argument here that my house is part of my family's brand. It says something about us. Using it's picture to make money (this is not altruism on Google's part) violates my personal trademark. I wonder if I put a big TM on my front lawn if that would stick in court. I would love to see it tested. Isn't my image and the image of where I live as valuable as the images of a celebrity, at least to me?

The final aspect of this that really annoys me is how it violated my security. By publishing detailed pictures of my house (as opposed to the grainy top view of Google Earth) it give potential thieves and miscreants value information that I would rather they don't have. Google should think of it as publishing their internal IP addresses. Not too harmful on the surface but valuable information to a hacker. Same applies here.

In the end, two thoughts come to mind. The first is that Google is not applying the same standard to itself as to regular people. I bet if I took pictures of their headquarters and published it for money, they would have something to say about it. Shouldn't I get the same respect? If someone used those photos to break in to their HQ and steal servers, you can bet they'd have their lawyers crawling over them like ants at a kindergarten picnic. So, Google, eat your own cooking. The double standard is pretty awful here.

The next thought comes by way of Google's response to objections. So far, Google's reply to complaints has been that it is perfectly legal because they did in the street. Maybe that's true. I can't tell since I'm not a lawyer. But that doesn't make it right. Whatever happened to "Don't be evil"? Google knows that this upsets people, it knows that they are on shaky moral ground, yet they hide behind legalities.

I'll say this, it doesn't give me confidence that they should hold my most private data. What if Google Health was to exploit a hole in the existing law that let them give away private health information. It doesn't matter whether they do or not, or whether the hole is there or not. I only need the suggestion that they might try and find such a hole. If they can't see the immorality of taking pictures of people's homes and posting them, then they might have some other moral lapse when it really counts.

Eventually, someone will be robbed or murdered, or a child abducted and the perpetrator will reveal that he planned it with the help of Google Maps pictures of the house. Then you will find Google scrambling to find a way to convince us it was not their fault. Of course, we won't be convinced. The legalities won't matter then.

In the meantime Google, get the picture of my house off your site. You do not have permission!