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Google’s Goggles service threatens privacy

December 14, 2009

X-ray Gogs by photobunny CC Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works

An article by Jeremy Laurence in the New Zealand Herald (from the Independent) today (Monday 14 Dec. 2009) reports that Google has blocked images of people from their new Google Goggles service, a mobile application that allows users to match an image captured by their camera phone with an image in Googles image database. The fear, of course, is that users (including businesses) could locate personal infomation about an individual that is related to a photo that the subject (or someone else) posted online. In keeping with Googles practice of asking forgiveness after the fact rather than permission in advance (see the Google Books project), the service was launched before the decision was made to disable the face-matching feature. They plan to reactivete the face recognitition ability as soon as “safegards are in place“. By then, demand for the complete service will have increased, which will reduce the effectiveness of any criticisms (smart strategy).

It is worth noting that, in a report published in June 2007, Privacy International ranked Google as the worst Internet company in terms of privacy protection of the 23 companies that they studied. In Google’s “Ten things we know to be true” Number 8 is that “[t]he need for information crosses all borders”. Clearly, this includes the border between privacy and profit.

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