Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big Brother is Watching You

Ever play with a program called Google Earth? It's a freebie you can download, and it's basically a series of maps of the entire world. Included is a satellite view, sharper in big cities than out in the country, and in some places, there is a street view, which can be downright spooky. If you live in a city on a well-traveled street, plug your address in, and what you get is as detailed as a photograph you'd shoot from the street, done with a so-so camera.

Now, of course, anybody can legally drive down your street and take pictures of the outside of your house -- there's no invasion of privacy involved unless they come peek in your window.
But it is somewhat disconcerting if you can find this picture of your house from any computer on the planet. A great tool for stalkers.

I had the program on my old computer and didn't port it to the new one. I wanted to look up an address today and thought, what-the-hell, I'll re-install it. And just for fun, I plugged in the street and number of a friend and activated the street view. Sure enough, the image came up.
Showed his house, his daughter standing in the front yard, and him, inside their garage -- door was up, so it was "public."

It gives one pause, it does.

I know there are millions of cameras out there -- supposedly more cameras than people in London, for example -- and that anything you do in public might be captured as a photo or video, but it is, as Darth Vader said ... disturbing.

My hot tub is under the tree canopy out back and you can't see it from above, but if it wasn't, I could flash you from thousands of miles away.

Welcome to the future ...


Jon said...

Reminds me of the scene with Gene Hackman from Enemy Of The State, wherein generic Big Brother agency is watching him and Will Smith using super satellite cameras, and the one comments to the other, "Smart guy, he never looks up..."

Anonymous said...

Yeah- Google Earth has seen quite of bit of use by Iraqis the last few years, both insurgents and people planning E&E or defensive contingencies. At least technology is making it easier for us to kill large numbers of people.

Worg said...

This is one of Google's sleeper technologies, things that haven't exactly caught on like wildfire yet but are simmering away.

If you have a graphics card, you can look at New York with all the buildings rendered in 3D. Other cities are coming.

I suspect that they will have aerostats over major cities so you'll be able to watch the street view in real time.

Jay said...

My old house has the For Sale sign in the yard for its image.
I recently found out some parts of Australia are on there at street level as well.
It is a little odd...

steve-vh said...

Shades of "The Traveller" series and the Evergreen Foundation?

So which is more ominous? That thieves are able to see where our security fence is the most vulnerable or that we might accidentally pull up your backyard?

Master Plan said...

The thing that seems missing to me in all of this, if I can wax future-tech rhapsodic for a moment, is logging.

If we can all see anything we want when we want, why can't we see who saw what?

That, to me, kinda mitigates the "little brother is watching you" thing, being able to watch them watch you.

There's not a lot of infrastructure there for this yet, but it's only a bit of software away.

Personally I like the idea of nano-scale WORM drives that "break" at a molecular level to insure the data logging is sacrosanct from being edited.

But...that's all some futurism fun that isn't quite here yet.

Some guy said...

Yeah. I'm not exactly the criminal type but all the "global memory" that now exists gives me the creeps. Any time, anywhere public, I could be being filmed. The bus, the grocery store, a sidewalk corner, wherevever. And what happens if I want to make a career change and become a bank robber? Rank discrimation!, that's what I call it.

I was wondering; how could the satellite take pictures of your friend INSIDE his garage (from above?), door open or no? That's vaguely scary....

Some guy

Jordan said...

@Some Guy: Google Street View (and the equivalent MSN service and I'm sure a few others) are recorded by vehicles set up with a ring of cameras (or a single special camera) automatically snapping shots as they drive along.

That said, MSN has a particularly nifty "birds eye view" on their mapping site that is taken from airplanes and is angled such that you can get a much better view of the facade of a building even from the air. You can even view a location from all four sides that way.

Some of the, ahh "sensitive" locations that are blurred out in Google Maps or are more subtly hidden (there are some fun places where airbrushed forests cover certain interesting locations) aren't hidden in some of the other services or views.

Steve Perry said...

The garage interior is from the street view -- basically they hire folks to drive up and down with an automatic 360 cam on top the car and shoot pictures. (There's a whole bunch of street-theater guys who try to find out when this is happening and who go out and try to get in as many pictures as they can. It's a brave new world out there ...)

Some guy said...

Ah. Thanks for the info. That's even worse. When I finish this comment I intend to head straight for the nearest (unlit) closet, close the door, burrow in, and stay there for the rest of my life, or at least until the latest camera technology defeats my brilliant scheme.

Some guy