The Red Lines Page

April 5, 2009

Brought on?

Filed under: press,Technology,twitter — Peter A @ 2:30 pm

 The Daily Mail lauds the actions of the good folk of Broughton, Buckinghamshire. Annoyed that the Google Street View camera was legally photographing their homes, the villagers took action against the driver of the car. Or to put it in the words of the Daily Mail‘s correspondent, “a respectable, bespectacled 43-year-old real estate executive” rounded up “a couple of housewives, a nurse, a Tory councillor and an energy consultant” to ensure that a car driver was “trapped for an hour and a half in the village”. More unkindly and inaccurately, The Times describes them as a “village mob”.

The Mail works itself up into an indignant sweat about the “computer giant’s insidious invasion of all our privacies”. I think they’re trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. Possibly a stable door on one of the charming barn conversions you’re likely to find in villages like Broughton. The villagers are upset because a camera ten feet high is more intrusive than an ordinary passer-by with a camera. But navigational information is already available from Multimap’s aerial and bird’s eye views of Broughton. Zoom in and try for yourself. A human chain’s not going to prevent that. Nor are brave villagers linking arms going to stop those helicopter shots that photographers like to take indiscriminately and then sell to villagers all round the UK.  Who authorised BlueSky to take these images of Broughton?

broughton, bucksThe Mail picked up the story from the Milton Keynes Citizen, which ran a front-page article about the human chain. The Mail even published a photo of the Google employee and his car. Unlike the Citizen, or indeed Google Street View for that matter, the Mail chose not to blur the number plate of the man’s car. And unlike Google Street View, the Mail didn’t blur the man’s face in their photo, either.

Mind you, the Mail can’t quite decide where Broughton is. On Saturday it was Buckinghamshire. On Sunday, they said it was the one in Cambridgeshire. Just to add to the confusion, the Sunday article included an aerial photo of the village in Buckinghamshire. On the Mail‘s website, the photo also invites you to “Enlarge”.

Perhaps that irony has escaped the Daily Mail. And the outraged villagers of Broughton seemed happy enough to pose for a press photographer.The Mail has now helpfully published three pieces about Broughton — all accompanied by photographs of the village, with the more detailed ones available on the web. The latest article regales us with the news that Broughton has “now become the focus of national attention” (possibly as a result of newspaper articles, you have to suppose) and that “Street View enthusiasts from across the UK” intend to “descend on the village to snap their own perfectly legal photographs”. Articles have appeared all round the world — including Norway, Turkey, Pakistan, and Ireland.

The villagers have not brought this on themselves. But the press, in a froth of indignation about this “invasion of privacy”, have exacerbated the problem. The Mail would have us believe that Google Street View is an “encyclopaedia for the burgling fraternity” provided by “Snooper Command”. “If our houses are plastered all over Google,” said the ringleader of the stoppage, Paul Jacobs, “it’s an invitation for more criminals to strike.” On the other hand, a local councillor explained that there had been five burglaries in ten weeks before the Google man appeared, and she seemed to attribute them to Broughton’s thirty-fold population growth since the opening of a nearby housing estate “in recent months”.

But if the number of burglaries now increases, and especially if that happens before any images appear on Street View, it won’t be the good people of Broughton, nor will it be Google, who are to blame.

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