Some people fear that Google is growing far too nosy, in light of the search engine maven’s buyout of face recognition specialist PittPatt, its insistence on “real names” in Google Plus, and its disclosure of the locations of millions of notebook PCs and cell phones worldwide in ‘Street View’.
Complaints about matters related to privacy and identity are nothing new to Google. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigated Google’s Street View for Google’s admitted, but apparently inadvertent, collection of some user passwords — and even entire emails — as part of a project around mapping Wi-Fi networks.
Then in February of this year, some folks voiced alarm when Google got a patent for new technology combining facial recognition and social netorking for visual search results.
“[It’s] uncertain as to whether [there will be] arrangements for ensuring compliance with the privacy of individuals,” warned a user named jhon, in a forum called desktophelp.in.
Now, Google is stirring worries on three new fronts, all in the same week. On Friday, Google announced the acquisition of facial recognition specialist PittPatt.
Then on Sunday, news surfaced that, back in March, Google had been fined 100,000 euros (the equivalent of about $143,000 US dollars) by the French data protection agency, Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL).
CNIL imposed the fine following an investigation showing that Google’s Street View cars had collected the street addresses and unique hardware identifiers (aka MAC addresses) of millions of notebook PCs, cell phones, and other Wi-Fi devices around the globe. Google’s cars were supposed to be garnering location data about Wi-Fi access points only, not Wi-Fi client devices.
Street View House Photos Also Tick Off Users
Actually, among the bulk of users, the Wi-Fi client debacle seems to have sparked relatively little outcry, possibly because PCs and phones are less personally identifiable items than faces, names, or houses, for example.
Home owners have long been highly vocal about Google’s practice of keeping photos online in Street View for years that show a messy front yard or don’t reflect recent property improvements.
“I guess what I find irritating is that when a person does a search on my address, they still see what it looked like when the former owners had the home and it is an absolute disaster area, junk everywhere. We poured a lot of sweat into cleaning up the outside and it won’t be noticed until they retake the aerial photo,” wrote mebert91 in the Google Forums, back in 2010.
Such concerns are understandable, considering that some people appear to use Street View as a tool for deciding where to live. “I thought about moving to Calgary or Edmonton [in Ontario, Canada] until I saw [them] on Street View. Thank you Google,” wrote Oink, in the British Expat Discussion Forum.
Google Plus Dictates Which Names to Use
Right at this moment, users are complaining directly within the Google Plus Forum about a provision of the User Content and Conduct Policy for Google Plus which reads as follows: “To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either or these would be acceptable. Your profile is suspended [if after] reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards. If you believe your profile has been suspended in error, please provide us with additional information via this form, and we will review your profile again.”
One user spelled out his reasons for wanting to use a pseudonym instead. “I used the name most people call me on other Web sites. No one I really care about in real life ever bothers to contact me over the computer so I gave up on them. Thus, I never bothered putting my real name up,” acknowledged Blaze.
“My pseudonym is more original and less common than most name-surname combinations and allows me to be identified by members of online communities with whom I interact.”
Another user recounted what happened when he tried to use the initials “vm” as his handle. “[Google] forced me to [prove] my identity if I wanted to stay [a] member, continue using my current Gmail ‘ID’ and stay connected with my friends. They asked for my photo ID, if possible,” vm reported.
“I think that I don’t need [yet] another time consuming community site, especially under [those] conditions,” he elaborated.
Google’s PittPatt Buyout: ‘Ominous News?”
Quipped cageymaru, another HardForum member: “Google Street View live edition! Track your friends and family entering and leaving your home while [you’re] at work. Oh and the pool boy [who] stayed an extra 5 hours making ‘overtime’ with your wife.”
Also in HardForum, a user called stiltner pointed to possible concerns in the antitrust arena. “[Google] won’t call it facial recognition. Hence they can say they aren’t using facial recognition. They’ll call it, ‘Google Book of Faces,’ and everyone will flock to it and lap it up,” he predicted.
“I’m starting to get worried with Google. Phones. Tablets. Netbooks. Search Results. It might be time for the [FCC] to step in on them and pull an AT&T breakup.”
Also on HardForum, when dyzophoria suggested that PittPatt’s technology will most likely be integrated into Google Plus, WorldExclusive replied, only half-jokingly: “Didn’t know I would have to cancel my Google+ account this early.”
If facial recognition does get integrated into Google Plus, Google ought to be prepared to inform users first, and to let them opt out if that’s what they want to do.
Social networking rival Facebook drew strong ire last year for failing to take these actions with its own facial recognition technology.
“How about you don’t have a Facebook account? Pick up the phone and call your family with any news that needs to be shared and go out and make real friends?” reacted “Anonymous Coward US ID: 1421131” in the Godlikeproductions user forum.