Technology and Business Law Blog

Microsoft Virtual Earth, Google Earth and Google Street View

Microsoft Virtual Earth not to be left behind Google Earth came up with the ariel high resolution very clear and identifiable incredible 3D photographs of properties including private residences. For example if you went to Zillow.com (which partners with Microsoft Virtual Earth) and plugged a residence address a few homes in and around the neighborhood show up. The pictures are very clear, every tree, shrub and yard decoration shows up. Even the cars parked in the drive way can be seen. Privacy and security issues have been raised especially on private properties and the defense is that images of people, pets, etc in their yards have been deleted and that a particular property cannot be identified in isolation. Another defense could be that anyone driving by the neighborhood can see the property or a aircraft flying low can see all this from the air since it is in plain view.

Now that may be true but a normal person flying over or driving by a private residence usually does not take high resolution pictures especially of an enclosed high wooden fenced backyard and post it on the web. The above argument fails if I plug in a private residence address that is a corner lot because then just that property’s layout is totally identifiable.

I would think when people enclose their backyard with tall wooden fences and shrubery it is because they want privacy and security. Such high resolution pictures makes it easier to break in or plot a break in. A person intending to break into a property can drive by the property note the street address, the location in the street/neighborhood and then look up the topography of the backyard in Microsoft Virtual Earth and plan a break in.

Now Google’s “street view” raises similar issues and a European technology lawyer says that this could breach European privacy law; (See Google Street View could breach Law) so then why is it not a big deal in the US? Do we have to be on the look out to see who is spying on us and not be sure where our picture will show up and be paranoid about our day to day activities?

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June 13, 2007 - Posted by | privacy, Security

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