As a Local Search practitioner, I'm a big fan of Google Maps and the brilliant technology behind it. I interact with Maps daily and am always excited when they roll out some new tool or application that makes their index of information about local businesses more thorough or useful. But seeing Google Maps' newest offering, Street View, didn't make me feel excited. It made me feel...ticked.
"If I can't roam around the Googleplex with a camera taking 360 degree photos of anything I want, what gives Google the right to photograph my whole yard, my house, my windows and doors?" my thoughts went along heatedly. "They expect people to respect their privacy at the Plex. What about the privacy of American citizens?"
So, I blogged about it on my blog and heard from quite a lot of people I've never heard from before who felt I was being that unforgivable thing...emotional. Actually, I really valued their comments as a gauge of public sentiment and an initiation to the arguments that have only just begun regarding whether trespass has to involve walking onto private land, or whether, in the modern age, we have the ability to commit illegal trespass with our gadgets. The courts will have to decide this as the lawsuits mount up.
Barring the cases that are cropping up in which Google's Street View drivers went down private driveways and through people's gates in order to photograph homes, it's my understanding of current U.S. laws that it's not illegal to drive down a street taking photos. It's not even illegal to take photographs of people without their knowledge or consent (think about the media's relationship with celebrities).
What Is That Word I'm Thinking Of?
Good social behavior is what prevents many people from swearing in public, spitting on sidewalks or evangelizing religions to unwilling subjects. None of these activities are illegal - they're antisocial. Good social behavior is the glue of 'niceness' that holds society together and makes daily life a little easier for all of us. Antisocial behavior causes discomfort and embarrassment in others, and it's why 'nice' people try to avoid it. Taking photographs of people and their private property without permission is simply very bad manners. As silly as it sounds, Google is being boorish.
My friend, Pierre Farr, exhibited much better manners when he had the opportunity to speak with a Google Street View driver a couple of weeks ago.
'So I watched as the car reached the end, did a U-turn and drove back out again. However, as it got close to me, the car pulled up into an empty parking spot and the driver came out. He shouted at me saying "I know you want to take pictures but I don't want to be in them." I obliged.'
Pierre kindly respected the driver's (rather ironic) wish not to be photographed, but Google is failing to act with like consideration for the public. Illegal or not, Street View is offending many of Google's neighbors, and as heavily invested as Google is in Local Search now, stepping on local people's toes isn't what I'd call a winning move.
What You Can Do
If Street View's documentation of your private home or person is striking you as a social blunder on their part, there are some steps you can take in an effort to inform them of their faux pas.
1) Find your home address in Google Maps
2) Click the Street View option
3) Click the Report Inappropriate Image option
This will bring up a form you can fill out, explaining your objections and requesting that the objectionable image be removed from their index.
One of my friends at Google, a gentlemen whom I really respect, graciously pointed me to this video detailing the request for removal process.
And that's the thing about Google that keeps me rooting for them, even when I get ticked. They've got such pleasant people working for them. They invent such fantastic, amazing applications. They set standards and raise bars.
But they are only human, after all, and we all make mistakes. I see the form they've provided as a way to let Google know if you think they've been boorish. Remember - their business is dependent on your approval as a member of the public. New technology is going to necessitate the creation of new definitions, new laws and new rules of etiquette. Let's keep the dialog going.
Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.
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