Google’s watching, always watching

1. The ethics of Google maps, Googleearth

As stated in lecture three maps are ‘instruments of powerful elites’. They live up to this statement as they show their power by making things happen. Google, as one of the biggest multinational corporations in the world observed this power and wished it as part of their own. As we know, knowledge is power and Google achieved this by the development of Google maps in 2007.

Google developed a new and improved way of using the power associated with maps by incorporating an interactive nature when compared to a traditional map on paper. This is because ‘users can look up driving directions and search for businesses on Google Maps. Google Earth provides flying simulation to view satellite imagery and maps’. (Lee 2010 pg 911) This idea increases Google’s corporate-political power as they build their digital-empire.


Google street view car that receives the images to update the map

However, with this technological advancement comes the ethics associated with it. Google has previously been involved in an ethical dilemma of ‘showing the faces of passers-by in the Street View photographs of Google Maps’(Lee 2010 pg 910). The fact I was able to walk out of my house recently and witness the passing by of the Google Maps street view car getting images is one example of how invasive this concept is. Another case where this occurred was when ‘Kevin Bankston, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was surprised to see his face in a street-level image on a now defunct online map a few years ago’ (Mills, 2007). Even worse, the man was caught in the photo smoking which was a habit he was trying to hide from his family. A minor incident, however one that shows Google’s threat to the privacy of an individual.

The lists of ethics doesn’t stop at privacy threats to the individual. As shown in the above Youtube video other ethical considerations and places that have lead to blurring on the map include ‘the possibility of being a terrorist target, presence of nuclear weapons, military installations, the highest level prison in New York, the site of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program and the central point for “Operation Iraqi Freedom”,

These main ethical issue associated with Google maps is that it is based predominantly on the profits it receives from advertisements so there are biases. Some businesses are even said to be visible at higher scales than others. Strom (2011) tested this theory by deleting all his cookies on his computer so that Google had no information about him and with this found that the prime point ‘fell in an empty field just outside the golf courses of Coffeyville Country Club, Kansas, which also happened to be a Gmaps advertiser’. In this case, this shows more evidence to Google’s strategy to gain power.

The fact that we don’t look at a maps in a scrutinising way is evidence of how dangerous they can be. Since we now know Google’s motivation behind Google maps was based purely on profit then we are able to see the geopolitical force which drives the company. Ethics will always be an important aspect to this tool as it is interactive which means it constantly evolves with new technology and effects every one of us.

Evans, N. 2015, ‘Global Visions: Mapping the planet’, Lecture Week 3, BCM232: Global Media and Social Justice, UOW, 16/03/2015

Lee, Micky. ‘A POLITICAL ECONOMIC CRITIQUE OF GOOGLE MAPS AND GOOGLE EARTH’. Information, Communication & Society 13.6 (2010): 909-928. Web.

Mills, E. (2007). Google’s street-level maps raising privacy concerns. 04, 2007.

Strom, T. E. 2011. ‘Space, Cyberspace and Interface: The Trouble with Google Maps’, M/C Journal, vol. 14, issue 3, pp. 3


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