Google’s latest innovation - an intrusion too far?

As individuals better understand the impact of data processing and storage on their lives, it is no surprise that there should be a fightback.

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We all attach importance to our privacy. Yet we live in a world in which our personal data has increasing value for others. Internet advertising – targeted at our individual needs and preferences – was worth more than £6bn last year in Britain alone.

Our digital footprints can be followed by governments, corporations and individuals whose attentions we may prefer to avoid. Nobody would dispute that society has benefited from the easy availability of massive stores of information. But should we accept that the advantages come with the quid pro quo that our right to privacy will be compromised?

Google’s Street View service, while helpfully allowing us to assess neighbourhoods we might want to move to, alerted us to the ever-shrinking size of our private spaces when it was launched here five years ago. What might be made, then, of Google’s recent acquisition of the California-based SkyBox? It will soon have a fleet of two dozen satellites orbiting the Earth and, at a steady flow, sending back pictures in “manhole and mailbox” resolution.

The data may be intended for use simply as a means of improving Google’s mapping capability. But the apparent level of detail the technology can offer will concern anybody who prefers to mow their lawn unwatched.

As individuals better understand the impact of data processing and storage on their lives, it is no surprise that there should be a fightback. The traction gained by the idea of a “right to be forgotten” in recent years is emblematic of the tension which exists between personal privacy and the free flow of information. But the law can be a blunt instrument in this area and has the potential to tar all data controllers with the same brush. To question the intrusiveness of new technology is not to be a Luddite. We should at least have the debate, but beware who might be listening.

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