Wednesday, May 30

New Google Maps feature: massive privacy invasion

Only in the US is there a geek market large enough to have even the faintest
hope of making a profit out of serving people 3-D photo maps, though I remain sceptical that Google can ever make this pay. Not that "make it pay" is a common goal for most Google development teams.

In my testing, I found that flying around the streets of San Francisco was a little bit nausea-inducing much of the time; either spinning out of control with injudicious mouse movements or getting completely lost by the time I'd navigated the intersection. Even those with an unshakeable internal compass (who presumably don't need maps like the rest of us anyway) may be slightly creeped-out by flying through a frozen moment in time, like a scene from Twilight Zone - people, vehicles and objects frozen forever in time (or at least
until the next update of the database).

The fun folks from Immersive Media have crews of drones (presumably associate producers) in white vans kitted with 360-degree photo cameras, slowly crawling through every major intersection in the US, building a navigable database of images that can be overlaid (presumably at great expense) on mapping data that Google has licensed from Sanborn and NAVTEQ (at less expense, since it's legacy data.)

I expect it'll be a matter of hours before people are blogging about all the weird sh*t they've discovered while zooming in on all the people caught on street corners.

Drug dealers prospecting, crimes in progress, lovers soon to become ex-, partners cheating on other partners, businessmen captured with the opposition in mid-betrayal, an eventually, no doubt, a chubby middle-aged guy who dies of a heart attack crossing the street shortly after the Immersive Media van trundles past, leaving as his last legacy on this mortal coil a blurry, poorly-exposed shot of him juggling an over-full briefcase, an extra-tall latte and that last
fatal cigarette on the way to an office never reached. A mourning wife bookmarking the URL sent by a web-savvy nephew in the weeks after the funeral, returning again and again to that haphazard moment, never closing the browser or even allowing the screensaver to kick in for fear that when she returns, it will be gone. Then one day, of course, it will be gone; deleted as randomly as it was captured by another refresh from another trundling white van.

But hey; it's not all bad news. It can't be long before someone hacks together something that lets you add speech bubbles to the photos and share them with other Google Maps users!

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