Celeb Homes and Google: Knowledge vs. Privacy


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image source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/5015670/How-to-use-Google-Street-View.html


Technology has been defined as many things, the saviour when helping to connect with someone on the other side of the world or locating where to go when lost or even a morale boost from social media. However, one forgets that with such profound technological promise, comes compromised confidentiality, when we are given the secret key to discover what the real-world may not allow.



One such example would be Google Streetview. Besides being the innocent platform to locate a landmark near your favourite restaurant; it has turned people into pseudo-paparazzi of celebrities, adding to the swarm of professional paparazzos already huddled outside celeb homes across the world. It has been recently reported that Google Streetview has started blocking out views of celebrity homes in UK, such as Paul McCartney, Lilly Allen and even the guitarist of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page.



Privacy has always been a major issue in the UK, being one of the harbingers of about six million CCTV cameras – that’s about 1 surveillance camera for every 11 people, in the UK alone! Besides protecting their identities, Google asserts that just as much as people have the right to access or know information about where someone is, this doesn’t override the personal right to hide their strategic locations and identifiable aspects from public eyes.



One can only imagine how a victim of this privacy breach, like Barbara Streisand, felt when over 40,000 people gathered outside her home after finding her exact address from Google Streetview. This is but one instance where Google has been in a messy tug-of-war between privacy and freedom of information in the 10+ years they have been running. 



Recently, they faced a ‘freedom of press’ issue when they took down some of the Telegraph’s news links relating to the Dougie McDonald controversy from their search engine results. But on the contrary, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had also recently urged Google to allow requests for the removal of certain results that are embarrassing or inappropriate to those they are about.



However, deeming it as the public’s right to know, Google defended cases where they refused to take down results, even on request. One example is the case of a Spanish man who didn’t want search results to show him as the guy who paid off his debts by selling his house, likewise, another case involved an actor who wanted search results about him hidden because a blogger written embarrassing comments about him.



Adding another paradigm to this, we have people who manipulate and distort search results to achieve higher rankings and attract potential customers via Google Adwords and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). On top of this, some search results are filtered to protect copyrighted material and explicit content, meaning there are a multitude of forces at play in the world of the search engine. 



Being a convoluted tug-of-war between different parties, it is still debatable whether Google should be allowed to be ‘judge and jury‘ for what we are allowed to see. For now, the future of online privacy seems unclear, but as we become increasingly interconnected with the digital world, Google will have to decide on their stance and stick to it.




Varsha Venugopalan




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