Monday, June 04, 2007

Bankston in the News

My former roommate, KB, has made the news.

Here's the article.

Well done, KB.

Honestly, I think that's the first time I've seen him in a baseball hat.


Anonymous said...

Here's my favorite "Street View" on Google Maps

Shortened, for your pleasure.

The League said...

Sometimes I hate the future.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, but I disagree with Mr. Bankston. There is no "ick" factor. What Street View does is show you, the viewer, what you would see if you were walking or driving through public spaces. There is nothing you can see on Google Street View that you could not see from a public, legally accessible area.

The only different, I think, is the scope. We aren't used to technology providing us such a comprehensive and thorough view. We could never see these things all on our own in a day; it is the fact that technology is helping us see more that seems to concern some people, including Mr. Bankston.

This reminds me of the news coverage of the online databases in the 1990s that made it very easy to find public data, such as drivers license information, professional licenses, et cetera. Before the Internet, you had to stand in line at a government office or draft a letter to be placed in the mail. With the databases, you could do it all in a few seconds from home.

We like to talk about how wonderful the net is, and Street View is another example of that. If I am in San Fran, and I need to know what the restaurant or bar I am going to looks like, now I can. It seems that the ease and convenience with which I can now find that information (or check out the surrounding neighborhood) is what seems to concern people.

I think this is another interesting leap forward for Google. I just can't agree that simply because more people can now have the same public and legal view of a person standing on the streets of SF, Vegas, NYC, or Denver, that there is anything to say ick about.

The League said...

I suggest you click on the link posted in the first comment and then imagine that's your ass enshrined at Google, taken without your permission.

If it was my ass, I would certainly be in contact with Google asking for them to replace the photo.

As per finding a restaurant... Cry me a @#$%ing river. Most restaurants have some sort of website, and that website usually features an image of the front of the building. And, you know, people managed to get from place to place for 100,000 years without Google Maps.

I don't think the question is so much about whether there should be images of buildings, though. The question is whether Google is approaching this with an engineer's eye for "what we can do" versus, "is this a good way to do it".

Technically, CNN has the right to show the faces of the obese in all of those stories on obesity, but they choose not to. They shoot from the neck down. Yes, legally Google CAN use whatever photos they take out on the street, but I don't think it's fair to incorporate someone's ass into your tool when they were merely trying to get into their car and had some unintentional slippage of the drawers.

BTW, legally I can also take photos of you naked in your own home as long as I'm standing on the street. Legally, I can do whatever I want with those photos, but that doesn't necessarily make it okay.

Anonymous said...

You are right that there are two issues: what is legal and what is ethical. But in both inquiries, we must be reasonable and avoid the unreasonable. It is certainly unreasonable for the woman in the pick-up to claim that her privacy has been invaded when she exposes her thong to the world as she has done so. It is evident from that photograph that any passers-by would have seen the same thing as did the Google photographers as her pick-up truck door was open and she was postured in a revealing way. Now, perhaps this woman feels foolish for doing so, but in the end, it was her truck, her choice of clothes, her decision to do as she did. Now, whether that carelessness deserves to be on Google for all to say may raise some ethical issues, but it's hardly an invasion of privacy.

If you are standing on the street, on a public sidewalk, you can certainly take a picture of a home. If in that home a person stands naked before a window, then your photograph may very well catch that image. The bottom line: What we willingly, voluntarily, or even recklessly expose to the world is by its very nature not private, nor should it be.

But I think you agree with me there and express concern more about the propriety of showing these images. Sure, they were public acts, but none of those depicted ever thought their moment or two of this or that would be forever enshrined on Google. Does the fact that they never expected their public conduct to be photographed and preserved for many to see mean that Google should not put them on display?

Interesting question.

I would err on the side of Google. These are public streets, the feature will certainly be helpful, despite the fact that you scoff at the ability not just to see the storefront but also the surrounding neighborhood as well as other landmarks. It's a neat function, as well, and certainly people are interested in it, not just for prurient reasons, either.

Really, the only objections I have seen are for those from or on behalf of people who could or might be embarrassed by what they are doing in public. If so, isn't the solution to abstain from the behavior rather than decry being busted for it?

The League said...

You're making a lot of unfounded assumptions, anonymous. And I think you're sort of defending peeping tom voyeurism.

"It is certainly unreasonable for the woman in the pick-up to claim that her privacy has been invaded when she exposes her thong to the world as she has done so."

Not necessarily. I can speak from experience that pants, even when belted, do not always stay where we intended for them to stay. I used to do a lot of wiring work, and my poor co-workers often caught an unintentional eyeful.

What's most baffling to me is that you're suggesting that because of this woman's choice of undergarments that she obviously deserves exactly what her thong has coming to her, thereby claiming to know what the woman's intentions were and thereby feeling nobody bears responsibility but the young woman. That's a fairly archaic and sexist view point. One I would put in line with that old saw about rape: She obviously wanted it because she was dressed like a slut.

How do you know that her pants didn't catch on the seat as she slid over? (I'm guessing they did)

Would she also be just as guilty if she were wearing a skirt which caught the breeze and blew up? By your logic, by wearing a skirt, women intend for their panties to be seen as they must know they might experience a strong, skirt lifting breeze, even for a moment in which a Google maps photog could be waiting with a camera.

Or, moreover, are you a supporter of the famous toe-mounted panty cams? After all, those women wore skirts knowing that toe-mounted panty cams exist or that someone could use a camera phone to take a picture up their skirt when they went up an escalator. Could that shot be used in a public ad campaign? As part of an evening of television? As part of Google Maps?

"What we willingly, voluntarily, or even recklessly expose to the world is by its very nature not private, nor should it be."

Which points back to the idea of the telephoto lens and the person naked in their own home. Clearly in my own home I have a certain level of expectation of privacy, and even to dash to the window to draw the drapes, your logic suggests that I somehow intentionally wanted to be seen and because of my moment of immodesty deserve whatever fate is doled out to me by a photographer.

My feeling is that Google is not moving forward with the appropriate level of tact and caution with which a technology such as what they're employing should be handled. There's really no reason that Google can't create policy which asks for multiple images to be taken of a single location in order to protect the comfort of their clients (and we are all Google clients).

I agree that there's a certain level of usability that's worth continuing the project, but I am uncomfortable with the idea that Google knowingly places these images into their product and shrugs off any embarrassment of the unwilling participants. To me, that's the spoiled kid shrugging his shoulders and denying any sense of responsibility.

Arguing over their right to show someone's bare ass is, or course, a logical argument you can win. And one backed up by law. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it reflects sound corporate responsibility. Moreover, I think displaying and profiting from something that someone would NOT want shown (especially when they are not seeking celebrity status) shows a disturbing lack of personal responsibility.

The fact that so many seem so unconcerned speaks a bit to a gap between what we see on a monitor and our ability to process that as something which occurred outside of
a Hollywood set and designed for our viewing pleasure. It's a gap I personally find a bit disconcerting, but one that's inevitable as technology outpaces basic social mores. There's an overwhelming sense of entitlement when the viewer claims a need to see bare ass and believes that desire supersedes the comfort of the average person to get into their car without their calamity being passed around as a meme.

It's all good when it's an anonymous person whose been compromised, but I sincerely doubt that the Google corporate officers (or yourself) would be excited to see their own ass become a feature of Google Maps. Let alone that of their sister, wife, mother, grandmother, etc...

Anonymous said...

You do yourself no justice when you so twist a person's argument that you accuse them of eye-rape or believing that all women are sluts. That's just obnoxious sniping, and what's worse, you know it is. But the real issue is not your gross hyperbole but the pseudo-philosophy that you have concocted and fashioned as your own personal standard of the law and ethics. There's no point in arguing with you about what the law or ethics views as a reasonable expectation of privacy, because you don't know what that means. You don't know what rights a person has in his person or the rights of the photographer or media representative shooting or filming on a public street. You see one photograph of a women whose underwear is showing out of thousands upon thousands and start tossing around words like "rape," which not only trivializes the trauma and tragedy of actual rape but illustrates that you are really nothing but an alarmist. I wouldn't mind debating the issue with someone who knew policy or the law, but I don't fancy getting into an argument with someone whose come back paints his opponent as someone who thinks all women are sex objects or existing only for the male gaze.

Google isn't attempting to shoot photographs up a women's skirt; they are taking photographs from a car on the street. You seemed to concede in your far more reasonable original response that it was legal for them to do so (although it was clear if you knew why that was the case). Again, the issue is, should they do it, i.e. is it ethical? I believe that it is, and they have behaved responsibly by including a feature that some images may be removed upon request. Perhaps that would alleviate your fears, but were such an option reasonable, it would certainly rob you of the opportunity to condemn others as virtual rapists and pat yourself on the back for doing so.

Perhaps if you viewed this issue more academically, i.e. what rights do citizens walking down public streets have in their image and their privacy, versus an opportunity to get on your soapbox, there would be a more reasonable discussion. But from your last response, it's pretty clear that's not what you want, anyway.

The League said...

Hey, anonymous, you're the one who brought your opinion here. If you want to complain about me getting on my soapbox when I'm writing on my own blog, I can't really help you there. That said...

You're assuming a lot about what I want and don't want. I attempted to debate by high school forensics rules. In your response you didn't really address my points with any logical argument nor proved how my points were invalid. So I'm not clear on what you mean by an "academic" debate.

In no way did I twist your argument. I applied your same logic to similar applications of the same technologies. What you call hyperbole, I call a slippery slope. Moreover, in no way was I trivializing rape. I was taking a look at the logic of your arguments and trying to examine your assumptions in plain language.

To review, you said "Now, perhaps this woman feels foolish for doing so, but in the end, it was her truck, her choice of clothes, her decision to do as she did."

In short, she got what she deserved for dressing that way. That's blaming the victim.

Obviously you took offense at the comparison to what you said vis-a-vis statements which were (and probably still are) casually tossed around about rape victims. Don't expect a retraction to be forthcoming. This sort of exploitation is about abuse of power, technological or otherwise. Obviously the people on the street are unaware that they are being photographed and have no power to stop the use of their image, including compromising images. Were the girl in the image in question asked, it seems unlikely she would have agreed to let Google use the image.

As you mentioned, I do agree that the shots used by Google are probably legal. I do not agree that legal automatically equates to ethical or responsible, but I'm not sure that equates to ignorance. Privacy in public spaces was, up until recently, part of my professional life. But I also don't believe laws have caught up to technology. My point wasn't about the law, it was about corporate and personal responsibility. If that was not clear, I apologize. But to your point...

You state "I believe (...) they have behaved responsibly by including a feature that some images may be removed upon request." That's an opinion, and that's great. But I disagree. To some extent, the ability to remove embarrassing photos is somewhat moot once an image is online. Thousands of eyes may see an image before the owner of the bared ass in question discovers they've become an unwitting internet star (if they find out about it at all). A responsible decision by Google (or the subcontractor handling the project) would be to find a manner in which they focused upon the actual buildings, streets and locations in question and ensured each image didn't contain embarrassing material by capturing multiple images or actually looking at their content before posting it. Yes, that would be a lot of work. In many ways, I think they're just being incredibly lazy.

It is true I hold my privacy and the privacy of others in high regard. I provided examples of the arguments you'd brought to the table and explained why I felt they were inadequate as blanket statements. Please feel free to address each of my points and or questions, as that seems to describe the debate you're asking to have.

You have your soapbox of standing behind inadequate laws and I'll take mine of supporting reasonable concerns of any citizen who wanders out in public regarding becoming an unintentional internet phenomena.

Anonymous said...

I would direct your attention to the dictionary definitions of "public" and "private" and "privacy" as they may be helpful to you.

I don't want to sift through all of your hysteria and hyperbole, and I haven't the energy to untwist all of my arguments from your unreasonable interpretations. I think you need to articulate your definition of what privacy is and whether and how someone can waive their right to privacy by entering the public sphere. If I have a legal right to be on a public street, and I have a legal right take a photograph on a public street, then how am I violating the privacy of those who are also exercising their right to be on a public street? Do people doing embarrassing things have a greater privacy right on a public street than people who are doing normal every day things? Does a person wearing a burka have less of a privacy right than someone wearing a thong? Isn't there a uniform rule that should cover all situations, rather than just those that you find embarrassing on behalf of the person depicted?

From a privacy perspective, what is the difference between (a) a random passer-by who sees the young woman (b) a tourist who inadvertently takes a photograph which includes the young woman and (c) Google in this situation?

In your great haste to feign an air of moral superiority, you misinterpet my prior post. I don't say she deserves it because of what she wore; I say that if you wear revealing clothing, and you venture out into public, people are going to see you in revealing clothing. That's just a fact. If you don't wear revealing clothing, and you venture out into public, people are going to see you in non-revealing clothing. Those are facts. When we see people in public, we see what they wear.

Would it make a difference if Google were seeking out only sordid images, rather than photographing the whole town?

Intent matters, too, don't you think? Google did not employ creepy photographs with shoe cameras to strain and find that which was not being exposed to the public eye. Surely even in your hysteria you can distinguish between those two situations, and if you can't, then you aren't being reasonable.

I think the function has great potential, especially for tourists and people unfamiliar with the city. It's also neat to virtually explore a city in this way.

The League said...

Hey, anonymous. Glad to see you came back.

I am disappointed that you've chose not to engage my prior points, but that's okay. As it might be helpful, I went ahead and looked up Privacy at

"1. the state of being private; retirement or seclusion.
2. the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs: the right to privacy."

I guess I'm going for definition #2 as I'm going to assume that we agree that the internet age should not equate to the public retreating into a life of solitude.

Again, you're applying law, and as I stated at least twice, I'm not referring to law. Yes, you've legally got a right to take a picture of some poor person caught in a compromising position in a public space. And you've legally got a right to post images. As I stated above, I believe the laws to be archaic as they're mostly designed for expediency (ie: not asking every person for a waiver in a crowd scene).

Basic human decency suggests that people caught in a moment of schadenfraude deserve the benefit of the doubt. I assume you weren't raised by wolves and understand most of the social mores of western culture. That is to say, I think you understand that folks intentionally performing embarrassing acts (wearing Mork suspenders, hula hooping on a public street), especially those intended to draw attention shouldn't receive the same consideration as they aren't entering public spaces with a socially agreed upon level of anonymity. If a person in a burka were to experience an embarrassing moment, due to respect for their religious considerations and basic respect for other human beings, Google would owe them the same respect they should apply to the woman entering her truck. And as per corporate policy, absolutely a policy of best practices should be employed which covers each photograph within their mapping application.

Reviewing your three options, the discussion isn't about whether the image is captured. The question is about distribution. Pretty clearly a random passer-by may catch an eyeful, but they can't reproduce the experience other than mentioning the experience to acquaintances. A tourist who inadvertently takes the photo is increasingly likely to place the photo on Flickr, but the tourist (and not Flickr, in this instance, as Flickr is not responsible for their content). Google is responsible for their content and has the resources to better manage their content.

You said "That's just a fact. If you don't wear revealing clothing, and you venture out into public, people are going to see you in non-revealing clothing. Those are facts. When we see people in public, we see what they wear." But the point was that the girl WASN'T wearing revealing clothing. Her pants appear to have slipped down while she was getting into her car. Thong or granny panties, she had not intended to reveal that portion of her wardrobe to John Q. Public.

Had it been John Q. NoPants walking down the street wearing nothing but a thong and cowboy hat, then obviously his intention was for his goods to be seen.

Google does seek out sordid images by way of their search engine. I'm not sure what you're asking with the question of whether they were intentionally seeking out sordid images. But I think I actually asked you this same question when I asked about the toe-mounted mini-cam.

Obviously intent matters, both on the part of the person being photographed and on the part of Google. But failing to edit or sift through their photos does not absolve the situation. Google is fully aware of their reach and influence, and it should be their policy to ensure that the material collected is non-invasive. Again, this will probably require some actual work and actual human eyes. Knowingly keeping up questionable photographs and hoping the victim will e-mail them is no different than employing the same policy with a toe-mounted panty-cam. It's still a matter of exploiting others and insisting that in no way is exploitation and the usual prurient interest which accompanies the exploitation is the responsibility of the party which posted the photographs. Clearly I disagree about Google's role and responsibility.

And, to beat this particular horse, I agree that the resource has potential, but it needs to be managed by someone with more scruples than a college freshman looking to make a quick buck.

Anonymous said...

Here's another awesome picture

And an NYT article

The League said...

I don't think I know the gentleman in the picture, but he's striking!