Feb 10, 2009

Google Rolls out "Orwellian" Service [LINK]

Back in 1984, I recall Orwell's book often discussed as a prophesy of our own times. The evidence for such a comparison? Supermarket check-out scanners. Cameras that snapped your picture when you sped through a toll booth.

Peter Funt should look up the word "eavesdrop" in the dictionary. He uses that word, along with other scare words such as "Orwellian" and "snooping," to describe Google's latest "Latitude" location-tracking service. This, in the same paragraph in which he notes it's for "consenting users" who opt in so that they can keep in touch with their friends. By definition, if you opt in, what happens is not "eavesdropping."

After seeing his house pictured on the web using Google's Street Views, which incorporates street-level photos into its mapping service, Funt also worries that burglars might see the "open window on the second floor" and find it inviting. What he fails to mention is that the picture was likely snapped months ago, and that in the meantime he may have had the good sense to close his window.

If Funt insists on using the word "Orwellian," the least he can do is supply credible scenarios in which the technology leads to a totalitarian government. Instead, he asks rhetorically, what if he paid a team to scan innumerable Street View images for "driveways in need of repair, then sold the list to a paving company?" I'll tell you what: at worst, you get a piece of mail from a paving company, which you then throw in the trash.

Funt compares Google's service to existing manifestations of "Big Brother," such as convenience-store security cameras, seemingly oblivious to the actual reason those cameras are there. For one thing, if someone happens to steal Mr. Funt's credit card and pass it at one of those stores, police will use the video to catch the criminal and thus protect Mr. Funt's privacy.

There's an appropriate response to this ongoing hysterical tendency to ascribe malevolence to so many unfamiliar technologies: LOL.


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