Loss of privacy is the price we pay for the convenience of Internet and mobile technology. Different countries and different age groups accord varying degrees of value to the one and to the other. Germany and Spain have their own reasons for thinking about the balance more carefully than others. Is it worth doing without Street View because Honecker’s East Germany set neighbours to spy on each other? What, if any, is the relationship between the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, the so-called (and probably illusory) ‘right to be forgotten”, and the Google Spain case? Is there a difference in attitude between the generation above me (which lived through the war) and the one below (which happily surrenders its personal information in exchange for social benefits). What about me – what do I think?
I don’t purport to answer all these questions, but it is worth kicking them around. If you can’t deduce what “Blurmany” is, the answer lies below.
The use of Google’s Street view in Germany came my way twice recently, once in connection with my own attempts to use it and once through a blog post by someone else which linked back to an old post of mine. The theme is the trade-off between loss of privacy and the benefits derived from data-sharing. The point about Street View is that its burden (the loss of privacy) is asynchronous with the benefit (which generally accrues to someone else).
First, why did I want to look at German Street View? My degree was in history, and I retain an interest in it. I like standing in the place where some historical event took place. In Oxford, where I live, you can still see the notch cut in a column in the University Church which supported the back of the platform on which Thomas Cranmer stood to hear that he would be burnt to death the following day; you can stand where he stood. Charles I escaped from Oxford by riding down the lane where I walk every day; Lawrence went that way also on his way to investigate a mound on Port Meadow (that’s T E Lawrence, not D H btw – they were interested in different kind of mounds). I can’t see a scene from a photograph without wanting to know exactly where it was taken. Read the rest of this entry »