Ever since Google launched its Google Earth and Google Maps in early 2005, it has been a subject of controversy and national security. The latest feature to Google Maps, the Google “Street View”, is also a concern as it invades the privacy of people who are caught in its view.
For someone who has used Google Maps, it is something with which you can fall in love with. The simplicity of the usage of Maps and getting directions (driving, bus routes, walking) are extraordinary. The Street View pulchritude is one of a kind that shows street level views of most US and European cities. Even the national weather channel in the US uses Google Maps to show the weather forecasts and dives down from 5kms to a few meters on the map. The famous “Map My India” service also uses some of the maps from Google Maps to plot more specific points-of-interest and turn-by-turn driving directions on its website and on the GPS devices.
Although Google does not charge the user for its services, be it the Google Maps or the Street View or even the Google Earth. It is free for the user. Or is it? Are we paying a much heavier price for what Google has done? These detailed maps of almost all major cities are accessible to everyone at a click of a button. We have seen what the terrorists who attacked India’s financial capital that began on the 26th of November and lasted for 4 days have done with it. They used it to plan their pixel perfect attack on the city that left more than 170 people dead. The gunmen who survived said that they had used Google Earth to familiarize themselves to the city and the locations of the building when they planned the attack. Being so easily accessible, is it an open invitation to other attacks not only in India, but also throughout the world?
A solution to this problem might be to blur-out the images of places that might be a target for further such attacks not only by terrorists, but also by local gangs. This is exactly what California Assembly man, Joel Anderson, a Republican from El Cajon, is proposing to do. In this measure dubbed “AB-255”, he suggests that all images of hospitals, schools, churches, government buildings and other such possible targets are blurred, it could provide some relief to the countrymen. This bill does not refrain people from getting directions. There is no purpose for showing escape passages such as air ducts to help terrorists plan their next attack.
The Google “Street View” has also received its share of hullabaloo. Although, the Street View camera only took pictures of public places, the people who are caught in the lens are too happy to see images of themselves on the Internet without their consent. There have been images of people taking a sunbath, children throwing stones at a government building, a robbery in progress and even a picture of a guy leaving a porn shop, all to be viewed by millions across the globe. Although there is a feature in the Street View where anyone who finds an image to be inappropriate, can report it and that image is later removed.
Even though Google is one of the best IT companies and one that experiments a lot of new technologies and protocols, the price for the privacy of an individual or a nation must not be compromised. It is no doubt that it is a matter of grave concern for national security, and not only for India but for other countries as well since terrorism is a global threat affecting all human kind. I hope lessons from the Mumbai attacks are learnt by all and we do not see repeats of it again.