Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cool or Creepy? Google Maps Street View

I was looking something up on Google Maps the other day.

This is one of the great technological advancements that the ‘net has brought us. Think of it. Your friend invites you over to his house. He gives you an address, and starts to tell you the complicated directions to get you there. You stop him and say that you already know how to get there. How is this possible, as you’ve never been to his house? Well, while he was rambling, you were looking it up on Google Maps, and now you can see very clearly how to get there. You can print out the map and take it with you. You’re good to go!

Doing it is really simple. Once you’re at the address above, you simply enter a street address, or a city name, and the state or country. Click “Search the Map” and it’ll go right there, assuming where you’re going is actually on the map.

Once you’re at the map, you can zoom in and out using the scale in the upper left. You can navigate North, South, East, and West by either the buttons there, or by simply clicking in the middle of the map and moving it over. It’s a great tool for finding your way.

There are other cool features. One is a button for traffic, so you can see current traffic conditions on major roads and plan your route. Another is the terrain feature. I live in the midst of the Rocky Mountains, so that’s a kind of cool feature. A flip of another button and you’re looking at a satellite image, rather than a map. Zoom in on your house! Cool, huh?

Well, we just had our house built a couple of years ago, and the satellite map shows a hole in the ground with the foundation poured. A bit out of date, but we’ll allow them that.

But then it went from cool to a little bit creepy.

I clicked the button called “Street View”. This one gives you photographs of what you’ll see from the street. The pictures are taken by a set of cameras mounted on top of a car as it drives the streets of America.

Now, that’s all cool and fascinating if I want to do a virtual visit to New York, or Yellowstone National Park. But when I looked at my own house, it was a different story. No half-built empty foundation here. No, there was a picture of my completed home, with all of my flowers and landscaping in the front yard, and my son’s bicycle flopped there on the ground, right where he usually leaves it.

Suddenly it got really personal, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it.

And I’m not alone. A couple in Pennsylvania sued over it, claiming their privacy was violated. Others, not so benignly, have been photographed sunbathing in bikinis, or leaving adult bookstores, getting arrested, or even soliciting prostitutes.

The lawsuit hasn’t gotten them very far. Pictures of their home publicly available from the Allegheny County's Office of Property Assessments website anyway. In addition, Google hasn’t done anything illegal. They are on a public street when they take the pictures, and the pictures they take are the public view.

My big concern is that while, technically speaking, having a picture of my property available at some obscure corner of a county officers website is one thing. Having it be so easy to view at a site so trafficked as Google Maps is another. It kinda makes me look with suspicion at cars driving slowly down the street. At first, I would have just assumed it was the Home Owners Association yard police making sure my lawn was mowed and trim. Now it could be Google!

I’m just not sure I want it to be quite so available to the public!

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


  1. Russell Hancock5:55 PM

    Hi Mark,
    How was your holiday weekend?