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Google is watching

07 Apr 2005

Recently, Matt has been collecting and posting the interesting things showing up in the new satellite imagery on Google Maps. Just today, he and Andy point out a couple of beautiful evaporation pools. Matt goes on to describe with impressive detail exactly how the chemistry of the pools differ. Satellite analysis by an armchair scientist.

At the same time, the new Google feature is making people not a little uncomfortable. A friend yesterday said she always knew the machines buzzing around up there had cameras, but it was a little much to see her car in the driveway. How would it feel, for example, to be caught vacationing on Lake Tahoe. Parodies have been quick, as the fine folks at Defective Yeti point out.

But privacy goes both ways, doesn’t it? Ultimately Orwell was right: everything we do will be watched. But he was wrong about the government building it. We did it ourselves. Which means where Matt sees chemistry, I see environmental accountability. Where others see surveillance, I see corporate whistle-blowing. It reminds me of the Surfrider Foundation’s project to get kayakers in the San Francisco Bay to cameraphone the bilge coming out out of container ships. What happens when thousands of grassroots activists can click-and-drag through the remote places in this country? Clearcut! Oil spill! You can’t dump that there — we’re watching!

Either way, mountains of “public” data being made accessible to everyone through an intuitive user experience (and it is the experience that makes the difference) will raise issues we haven’t even imagined. I feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Update: Google Sightseeing is a blog collecting interesting satellite images from the service. ​