So I should say at the outset that there is nothing wrong with the concept of privacy. But in an age of social media, people really are going to have to start getting used to the idea that a lot of what we do in public is going to be “out there”. To digress briefly – as we heard at a session at MoMo London recently, mobile location based social networks in South Africa have privacy settings set to “public” as a default. It is then up to the user to lock down what they, well, want locked down. That’s not the case in Europe of course. But similarly, if you are in a public place, you may end up on some Qik video, or Flickr page. Yes, this is not ideal for people who still have no handle on any of this. What can I say? We are in a period of societal change.
So I am rather glad therefore that the Information Commissioner has seen sense and ruled that it is “satisfied” that Google’s Street View photo-mapping – a story we helped break – will have safeguards to avoid risking anyone’s privacy or safety. The project drew criticism from “privacy campaigners” [sic.] worried it could breach data protection laws – but it must be said, the main privacy campaigner which had a problem was Privacy International. It wrung its hands over whether people’s faces in the street would end up on Google StreetView. But Google is now obscuring those faces so there is little issue with this.
It seems like any time any Internet company wants to do anything vaguely innovative, there’s Privacy International popping up, worrying about “our privacy” for us. Yes, they do useful work, like in the case of fisking Phorm. But I rarely see journalists quoting anyone else. Though I applaude their work with the Big Brother Awards, I note that many of these “privacy” stories are rarely generated other than by a press release from, er… Privacy International, saying it’s worried about something.
And I’m not alone in my bemusement at PI. As Mohammed Hanif says in The Guardian today:
Google Street View is as much a threat to western civilisation as disposable cameras are to London’s historic monuments. The most viewed pictures on the US version of Street View include a giant pumpkin, two men leering at a woman bending over and the fractured signboard over a porn theatre.