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Modern Property Ideas

April 30, 2012

If you’re not following the latest with the Google StreetView saga, it’s worth watching for a variety of reasons.  Here’s part of the latest from the Register, including this fun passage:

Six months later Google conceded that payload data, including emails and passwords, was recorded by the roving photo-motors – but still blamed a rogue engineer.

An investigation by the Federal Communications Commission leaves no ambiguity: an engineer discussed the collection of the personal data with a senior manager, and that between May 2007 and May 2010, wireless traffic was captured by Street View cars.

“Are you saying that these are URLs that you sniffed out of Wi-Fi packets that we recorded while driving?” asks the manager, a question the engineer affirms. Both identities are concealed: the developer is referred to as “Engineer Doe”.

The whole legal battle is centering on whether getting data that’s freely available in the air violates the Federal Wiretap Act.  The feds are logically arguing that traditional rules apply.  Google seems to be taking a different tack, and I believe it goes to the heart of a modern view of property and how Google fits into it.

Any of us that spend more time staring at our gray hair instead of the Internet tend to have a different view of what’s ours and theirs than those of the younger generation.  I think one view of Facebook and the types of posts and photos up there compared to age can give you a nice indication of a person’s view of personal space and property.  Google is a company composed of “forward-thinking” technology progressives who view property in a very different way.  If they didn’t, then Google wouldn’t exist in the first place.  The whole thinking behind something like Google is that all things on the Internet are equal and open, and therefore searchable.

So sure, if it’s unprotected over the air, I don’t see how someone at Google would even stop to consider that it’s public property.  Heck, if the people in a given household are going to do the electronic equivalent of leaving the windowshades up at night, then they should expect a little innocent vouyerism.  Where that runs afoul of traditional legal niceties, well…

Google co-founder Sergey Brin recently confessed a fascinating desire to The Guardian newspaper: “If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great. We’re doing it as well as can be done.”

So, sure.  At long as your motto is “Don’t be evil,” we should just trust them and let it go.  That change might not be coming as fast as Google would want, and the friction they encounter over time will be interesting to observe.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2012 10:07 pm


  2. April 30, 2012 1:58 pm

    A look at Google’s behavior in (and cooperation with) China suggests that their motto is really part of an admonition, with two key words missing: “Don’t be evil … like us.”

    I wonder how many people have been tortured and killed as a direct result of Google’s provision of their data to Chinese authorities. I expect that this number is in the thousands, but could be tens of thousands. Google may have directly caused more deaths than our pursuit of oil … something to think about.

    These are the same people who were so ferociously anti-US (and specifically anti-US-military) that they refused to honor Veterans Day and Memorial Day for seven years, though they were happy to celebrate Andy Warhol’s birthday. Oddly, it was only the US version of November 11 they were upset about — they still showed poppies for Canadian and UK and Australia viewers.

    I wrote about that saga a few years agohere, here and here. That last case was slightly different: They showed the US Independence Day logos all over the world — except in the UK.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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