Google has been having privacy problems with its Street View website across Europe in recent months. In the UK, one village tried to block the Street View cameras from taking pictures, whilst in Greece last month, Google was forced to black out images until it provides further guarantees about privacy.
Now Germany has come to a different agreement with Google on censorship of content. Google will erase images of faces, house numbers, license plates and individuals in Germany who have told authorities they do not want their information used in the service.
This is different to previous agreements where countries have been happy to have personal information only blurred. I wonder now if questions will now be raised in these countries about whether blurring was enough. Does this mean that Google still holds the original photos and is able to use for its own internal needs?
Personally blurring any content that is publicly available is enough for me, though I am sure others will disagree.
Regardless of the privacy questions, Google Street View is now available in 100 cities across the globe and is being actively used by 3rd party developers to great effect. It has definitely made house hunting easier from the armchair!
It is an obvious thing to say: we place differing levels of protection on the various ways of allowing communication. Over recent weeks I have been watching how people protected their various ways of being contacted.
Borders has been looking to build out its ability to communicate with its customerbase via email. They ask you at the point of purchase for your email address and in exchange they will give you 20% off their next purchase. It has been hugely successful from what I could see just in the shop alone. People were more than willing to hand over their email address – it took 30 seconds tops and Borders had a way to start a conversation with their customers. (Unfortunately they screwed up the start of the conversation by sending me an email which said this voucher doesnt last very long and only applied to certain things – I deleted the email – but that is a post for another time).
Now imagine if they had asked for my address instead? I am not so sure I’d willingly give it out – I would certainly pause before doing so.
What about a telephone number? No way..
How about SMS? Today not a chance. I wonder if this might change in the future..
Overall though, getting a user’s email address strikes me as being the lowest barrier to starting a conversation with a customer.
Another example over at Kiruba. Here they have taken a screenshot of a business card and blurred out just the telephone number, leaving the address visible. Obviously protecting the phone number is much more important. (The business card is actually a wedding invite (!) but you can read more about that here).
The reason for why we protect some types of communication is down to how interruptive the medium is. The more interruptive the medium the less likely you want to give someone the ability to use it.
In my last post, I talked about people clicking on ads when it is relevant to them. Achieving this relevance is difficult, especially as you have to do so whilst still respecting an individual’s privacy. Facebook realised what can happen when you do not respect an individual’s privacy when it launched the Facebook Beacon. It allowed purchasing habits from Facebook’s partners to be given to Facebook and publicised to their friends and family through the newsfeed. They backtracked (see previous post), but not completely. It is interesting to see that based on the reduction in outcry over Facebook Beacon following the changes, the individual is willing to allow Facebook to have knowledge about their purchase habits as long as they do not tell their friends and colleagues.
I do not think this will stand the test of time, Facebook will surely end up having to allow users to remove this info if they wish. In the UK at least, an individual can request that a company ceases to use information for the purpose of direct marketing.
The question then becomes whether banners and search ads are direct marketing..
and whether Facebook is liable under UK law.