Tom Chivers, writing in Seven magazine (2 June 2013), said that the ‘team behind Google Maps won’t stop until it has every last inch of the planet stored on its servers.’
He quoted Dan Sieberg, Google exec and self-styled ‘evangelist; for Google mapping, ‘our goal is to put together a sort of digital mirror of the world.’
Whether you see this as somewhat chilling, or a really practical benefit to mankind may depend on where you stand in the privacy vs openness of the web spectrum.
Google Maps Are Ubiquitous
Chivers recounted how it’s only been since 2005 that ‘the search giant’s many tentacles reaching octopus-like into every area of our existence’ has been around. Now, with Google Earth, Street View and ‘their various offspring’, the ‘digital mirror’ is here to stay.
It is thought a billion people use Google Maps every single month. Almost 200 countries have been at least partially mapped from 28 million miles of road. Street View’s ‘jaunty, ubiquitous little electric cars have driven down over 5 million miles, recording all the way.’ It says in their blurb.
Where the cars cannot go, they have used Google tricycles for car parks and university campuses. Indoor maps have come from little trolleys to record public building interiors, stations, shopping centres, parks, factories – at an ‘intimidating rate’ the world is being mapped.
According to Chivers, a camera-equipped snowmobile went down the slopes of Whistler mountain. A backpack device has been walked down and up and around remote, ‘inaccessible’ places on earth.
It also turns out that underwater cameras are at work in six locations, as a starter. Google planes are even now overhead taking images of a trial 40 cities for conversion to 3D. Satellites are providing grids and checkable image data to support the growth of the maps.
Helping people avoid traffic jams, enabling tourists, showing people places that nobody or few people have seen before and even capturing crime taking place have all been offered up as the reason why all this mapping is good.
Even in North Korea which does not welcome cameras in the hands of anybody but their own security services, the product of ‘citizen cartographers’ as Sieberg calls them, or ‘foot soldiers’ as Chivers did, is now widely viewable in all its stark ‘glory’.
Sieberg thinks mapping is ‘one of those things we can’t live without now.’ He may be right. Most people rely on phones to finalise meetings when in a location, to find every destination and every restaurant or landmark. The art of old fashioned map reading is a dying one.
Even art is called upon to prove that mapping the world is a good thing. Deutcshe Borse Photographic Prize nominee Mishka Henner has moved away from taking pictures at all. Instead, his project No Man’s Land is a survey of prostitution sites in Spain and Italy compiled using Google Street View images. Robot photos as prize-winning art is one thing; men using Street View to find street prostitutes as they apparently do, is another. But hey, Google knows best.
Any objections are brushed aside. The mirror of the world cannot be owned, they argue. We merely show the world how it is, on your screens with attached/embedded data about locations, background, events, history. It’s only distributing data, isn’t it?
Mmmm. Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch told Chivers ‘you wont be able to sunbathe in your garden….’ was dismissed with, ‘the resolution is not a concern for a person on the ground. It’s just not going to be identifiable.’
In fact, Sieberg is being misleading. I’m with Big Brother Watch on this one. A pixelated face in a recognisable location is easily identifiable.
I myself have become a source of great amusement to my family as I was caught sitting working in my garden on a lovely sunny day by Street View. My face is a blur, my body is obvious to all who know where I live and what my garden looks like BEHIND MY SIX FOOT FENCE!
The real fear, even in an age when we are forced to accept constant surveillance, is that one day some bright evangelistic Googler comes up with the idea of maps of the soul. Then we really will have to abandon all semblance of being individuals.
Also to view:
Life-Logging Is Not the Harmless Fun It’s Portrayed to Be, 6 February 2013
Apple vs Google: Showdown of the Year, 5 July 2012
Improve Your Google Places Listing, Or Vanish, 2 April 2012
Zeitgeist: The Flavour of the (Google) Times, 1 January 2012
Image: Javi info